The number of children with mental health problems being treated on adult wards in England is rising

More under 18s were cared for on adult mental health wards in the first eight months of 2013-14, than in the whole of the previous year, NHS figures show.

Charities say mental health services for children are underfunded, with some travelling hundreds of miles for care.

The figures reflect "a crisis in mental health services", said YoungMinds.

Treating young people on adult psychiatric units should happen only in exceptional circumstances, when it is in their best interests, according to guidelines.

But the new data, compiled by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, found the trend towards fewer child admissions on adult wards in recent years had gone into reverse.

Charities say child mental health services are the 'Cinderella' services of the NHS

In 2011-2012, 357 under-18s were treated on adult mental health wards in England, which went down to 219 in 2012-13. However, between April and November 2013 alone, the figure reached 250.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) said in a report: "The figures for people and admissions is already higher than the annual figures for 2012/13 even though they only cover the first eight months of 2013/14 and the figure for bed days is close to the level in 2012/13."

Lucie Russell, director of Campaigns and Media at the charity YoungMinds, said it was "totally unacceptable" that the numbers of children being treated on adult wards was on the increase.

"The legislation clearly states that an adult mental health ward is not an appropriate setting for vulnerable children with mental health problems," she said.

The issue reflected "a crisis in mental health services across the board - from early intervention services to inpatient care", she added.

"Urgent action must be taken to ensure that the worrying increase in children on adult wards is halted and that both early intervention and crisis services improve."

Dr Jacqueline Cornish is National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood, at NHS England.

She said the NHS recognised there was an issue around bed availability for the most seriously ill young patients, and a rapid review was underway, which would conclude this month.

"We want to improve services and move towards patients being treated as close to their homes as possible," she said.

 'State of crisis'

England's Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, is among those calling for greater focus on mental health services for children, including a new survey to look at the extent of the problem.

She told MPs last week: "We don't have enough data on mental health problems in children - the last survey was in 2004."

Not only were we "a decade out of date," she said, "but actually people tell us that self harm is going up and anxiety and depression and other stresses, so it is important to have that survey."

Concerns have also been raised in Wales, with claims the service treating children and young people with mental illness in Wales is "in a state of crisis".

The Welsh government rejected the claim, but admitted waiting lists were an issue.

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