Anger over ‘national scandal’ in care of vulnerable children from region

Sally Burke, mother of Maisie Shaw
Sally Burke, mother of Maisie Shaw
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Dozens of vulnerable children with serious mental health problems are travelling up to 200 miles from Yorkshire for treatment due to a shortage of beds in the region.

Figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post reveal nearly one in three of 570 placements of youngsters have been out of the region since April 2013.

Children as young as 10 were among 143 youngsters placed miles away from their families, with some travelling as far as London and Essex for inpatient care.

Last night the crisis was branded a “national scandal” by former health secretary Alan Johnson who is backing a campaign to bring home a 13-year-old girl from Hull being treated since December 60 miles away in a unit in Sheffield, as there are no beds in East Yorkshire following the controversial shutdown of a local unit in 2013.

It is the second time Maisie Shaw, who has autism, anxiety and depression, has spent months on end in the unit after being initially treated 113 miles away in Stafford.

Her mother Sally Burke said: “My child is ill, she is in a hospital miles away from home. As her mum I would expect to see her, cuddle her and reassure her every day. As her mum I need to be there when she needs me. As her mum I should be able to hold her hand through her recovery. As her mum, not being able to do so is heartbreaking. I’m exhausted, physically and mentally and I feel helpless.”

Her MP Mr Johnson said it was “shocking” so many children were being sent miles away for treatment.

He said: “Mental health is the poor relation of physical health in the NHS and children’s mental health is the poor relation of a poor relation. It has got to stop - it’s a national scandal. It is the big crisis in the NHS.

“Everyone with mental health problems suffers but for children of 11, 12, 13 being close to their families is absolutely essential.”

David Smith, chief executive of Hull and East Yorkshire Mind, said: “Whilst uncommon, it’s a sad fact that Maisie’s situation is far from unique and we know of other local families who are facing very similar challenges and difficulties. Mental health problems can happen to anybody and I’m sure we would all want our loved ones to get the best possible care, in a place where we can visit and stay connected with their lives should it happen in our own families.”

Emma Shepherd, of the National Autistic Society, said: “Far too many children who have autism and complex mental health conditions, like Maisie, have to travel long distances to access essential emergency support, because of a lack of appropriate services near to home. Staying in an unfamiliar environment, a long way from their home and support networks, can have a detrimental impact on people with autism, who often rely on routines to navigate what can be a confusing and unpredictable world.

“Although the availability of mental health services for children is particularly patchy in Yorkshire, Cumbria and the south west, this appears to be a UK-wide problem.

“Whoever forms the next government must make fixing our broken mental health system a priority and ensure that Maisie and other children with autism can access the support they need close to home. But this can only happen when the Government reverses the historic and chronic underfunding of mental health.”

Figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post reveal there have been 171 admissions of 143 patients out of Yorkshire since April 2013 in beds costing up to £1,150 a day.

There have been 72 placements with the private Priory Group in Cheshire, 25 in Middlesbrough, 21 at the Alpha Hospital in Bury and 15 at a unit in Newcastle.

Other youngsters have been treated in the North West, Midlands, Norfolk, Essex and London.

Fourteen of 23 placements from Hull have been out of the region. Eight out 11 youngsters from the Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven areas have left Yorkshire for care, falling to only nine out of 73 from the Vale of York. Between 50-60 per cent of youngsters from Bradford, Calderdale, Huddersfield and North East Lincolnshire are treated out of the region. The average length of stay for an out-of-area placement is more than four months.

Youngsters treated in Yorkshire are seen in units in Sheffield, Leeds and York.

In a report last summer, NHS England admitted there was a shortage of inpatient care in Yorkshire.

It was severely criticised by MPs’ Health Select Committee in November in a report which said there were “serious and deeply ingrained problems” with services, including “major problems with access to inpatient mental health services”.

They said: “Often when beds are found they may be in distant parts of the country, making contact with family and friends difficult, and leading to longer stays.”

MPs accused NHS England of “poor planning, lack of co-ordination, and inadequate communication with local providers and commissioners”.

Campaigners in East Yorkshire have also angrily criticised the closure of the West End unit in Hull, which provided inpatient care on weekdays, with crisis capacity at weekends, that they say came without any consultation following a ruling by NHS England, which said services must be provided round the clock.

Last night a regional spokesman for NHS England said more beds had been provided in Sheffield and York in the last six months.

There continued to be “some capacity issues” in the region but were also clinical reasons why some patients were referred out of area, depending on the type of bed required. “Also in some cases it may be appropriate to access facilities which are in a neighbouring geographical area but are actually closer to the patient’s home,” he added.


‘My daughter is being treated 60 miles away’