The NHS is at huge risk, as are the most vulnerable people in our society. Here's how the different parties would aim to tackle mental health careby Lucy Maddox / May 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
It is Friday night, and A&E staff are trying to work out what to do for a 14 year-old boy found wandering the streets of a London borough, naked from the waist down, not making sense. It is clear he is having unusual ideas and hearing things that other people can’t. He needs to be somewhere safe. A&E is busy and chaotic. There are specialist psychiatric wards designed for under-18s, where professionals help young people and their families understand what is going on and offer treatment. None of the London adolescent wards have a bed free, though. The only option is a bed on an adult ward, inappropriate and illegal, or a bed three hours away, far from family or friends.
Earlier the same day the senior nurse of a gastroenterology ward in another major UK city calls around trying to find a bed for a 15-year-old girl with anorexia. She has been on the gastro ward for over a week, eating just enough to stabilise, still extremely underweight and likely to deteriorate without specialist support. The girl is not in the right place to get the psychiatric treatment she needs, and is in a bed which a gastro patient needs. Eventually, the nurse finds a psychiatric bed—a five hour journey away.
Searches for adolescent inpatient beds are routine. Mental healthcare and social care have suffered chronic, debilitating cuts, and money promised to child and adolescent mental health has been spent on other things. Psychiatric beds for adolescents are continually over-subscribed, leading to teenagers being cared for miles from their families. When there are not enough NHS beds, costly private hospitals are used.
It is a mess, and political parties are absolutely right to be talking about it in their manifestos.
Comparing the manifestos
The Labour manifesto pledges to use tax from higher earners to finance higher spending on the NHS and social care. It highlights child and adolescent mental health as areas of need and pledges to give NHS staff “the support they need” and “the pay they deserve.” It promises to lift the NHS salary cap and spend £30bn in extra funding.