Only Nine Beds To Treat Our Most Vulnerable And Disturbed Children

The number of child psychiatry beds has plummeted by 70 per cent in Scotland, forcing youngsters into adult wards where they are at risk from sexual predators, it emerged yesterday.

Figures obtained by The Scotsman show there are now just nine beds in the whole of Scotland, down from 30 since 1999.

Experts are warning the bed shortages mean children and teenagers are often admitted to adult psychiatric wards, where they can be exposed to dangerous sexual predators and seriously disturbed adult patients.

The information, published by the Scottish Government, shows that the number of child and adolescent psychiatry beds in Scotland has fallen by more than a third since 1999.

In 2007 there are only 44 child beds, down from 69. Adolescent psychiatry beds fell from 39 to 35 over the same period.

The Scotsman understands there are only three in-patient units north of the Border for teenagers with mental health problems – in Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh – leaving hundreds of vulnerable young people in adult treatment centres.

The youngsters, many at risk of suicide, get no specialist treatment due to a lack of in-patient facilities. An investigation found there were 186 admissions for children with mental health problems across Scotland in 2006-7, and 171 of those were treated on an adult ward.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said specialist help was crucial. “It is quite unacceptable that so many child and adolescent psychiatric beds have been closed, raising the prospect that vulnerable young people may have to be treated on adult wards.

“They need to be cared for in specialist units so that they and their families will not be deterred from seeking the early help that can be vital in preventing long-term illness.”

The figures come just weeks after a Scotsman investigation found that children as young as 12 are being forced into adult psychiatric wards because of bed shortages.

Last night Dr Donald Lyons, director of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, said the Mental Health Act requires children to be treated separately, but 20 per cent of young people admitted to an adult ward receive no specialist expertise.

“They are in a very vulnerable situation. There can be inappropriate sexual conduct from older people. Our concern is that there is a lack of crisis services. The only place left is an adult ward.”

A recent Scottish study found that young patients experiencing psychosis and suicidal thoughts were waiting nine days before receiving treatment on a suitable ward. Scottish Government sources said it was up to local health boards to prioritise and decide whether to fund specialist centres.

A senior psychiatrist, who chose not to be identified, said Scotland had a “significant” and “widespread” problem and NHS boards were breaking the law by failing to provide the necessary treatment for children under the Mental Health Act.

“They are being exposed to adults who are seriously mentally disturbed. These adolescents are not getting the appropriate service and it’s a serious problem.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said a body had been set up to improve facilities, with targets to increase in-patient beds for young people.


Diane was in her late teens when she tried to take her own life. She can vividly recall the day she was sent to an adult psychiatric ward for treatment, along with a 15-year-old girl.

Surrounded by older patients, many of them psychotic or schizophrenic, the girls were terrified at the prospect of being attacked.

“It was a horrible place for us to be. We were only admitted because we were a risk to ourselves and yet we were in there with people who were seriously ill. The idea was to put us in there for monitoring, but there’s no way we should have been on an adult ward.”

Diane, now 26, said deafening security alarms were a constant feature as older patients regularly attacked the psychiatric nurses. She was also shocked when she realised she was to receive no specialist treatment. “The security alarms were always going off and they closed off the ward and you were stuck in one room for 25 minutes until they could control the patient. There was always a lot of shouting and screaming from patients who were really manic. Others were heavily sedated, just lying in their beds.”

Diane, now a community worker from Kirkcaldy, said the wards were devoid of stimulation to help overcome depression.

“You were left with a lot of time on your hands. You became very institutionalised and just lay around all day. It was not a place that could help anyone get better.”