Child and Adolescent Mental Health (Admissions)

General Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 June 2024.

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Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

To ask the Scottish Government when it will end the reported practice of children and young people being admitted to adult services for treatment, rather than a national health service specialist child and adolescent mental health ward. (S6O-03573)

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

We expect children and young people who require in-patient mental health care to be looked after in age-appropriate facilities. We have three regional young person units providing specialist support to young people from across Scotland, as well as a national child psychiatric in-patient unit.

Very occasionally a young person will be admitted to an adult ward—for example, where they require admission to an intensive psychiatric care unit and cannot be safely cared for in an open adolescent unit. Admission will be for the shortest possible time and under strict conditions, including supervision from child and adolescent mental health service clinicians and following the guidance on admission to adult mental health wards for under-18s.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. I recently held a round-table meeting in the Parliament, when I welcomed Jane and Dave Macdonnell, who told MSPs about the experience of their son, Harris. I thank the MSPs who attended that meeting, at which the Macdonnells bravely read out Harris’s essay, “Escape”, which captured his time being held in an adult service.

Harris said:

“When I became unwell, I was admitted to Huntlyburn Adult Psychiatric Unit, because there were no beds in Scotland available in any Young Person’s Unit. No other young person should have to go through the experience I had.

It was the wrong place for someone who was already mixed up, frightened and unsure of who they were. The environment heightened my anxiety. After treatment for my injuries I was cared for in the Young Person’s Unit in Edinburgh for 2 months and I began my recovery.”

Harris Macdonnell tragically took his own life in 2020.

I welcome the meeting that I recently managed to secure with Maree Todd. The family have had meetings with her, too. I also welcome the news of the fatal accident inquiry that is now to take place regarding Harris’s case.

However, the scandal of children and young people still being admitted to adult services has to end. It has gone on for too long. Will the Scottish Government now act and agree to introduce a ban on children and young people being admitted to adult services?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I thank Miles Briggs for his work in representing the Macdonnell family, to whom I pass my sincere condolences, and I pay tribute to the incredible work that they are doing through the Harris Trust, in Harris’s memory. I also pay tribute to Miles Briggs for the work that he has done, including the meeting that he held with my colleague Maree Todd.

Of course, such circumstances are horrendous for any family to deal with, and we will keep working to ensure that they are avoided. To enhance future provision, we are providing funding to boards to develop regional adolescent intensive psychiatric care units. We currently have 54 CAMHS in-patient beds across Scotland for children and adolescents, in the Dudhope young people’s unit, the Melville unit and Skye house. Those units admit children and young people from their health board regions, with the flexibility to admit from other regions if the unit closest to a child or young person is full.

I will, of course, take on board the ask that Miles Briggs has raised, but I return to the point that I made in my opening reply, which was that, in some circumstances—I hope that they are rare circumstances—it is necessary to ensure safe delivery of care for children and young people. Sometimes they need to be seen in adult services, but that must be done following the guidance that I mentioned, while ensuring that it is avoided, wherever possible.