00:04 GMT06 April 2020
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    The ruling Conservative government has pledged on more than one occasion to scrub up its act and reduce the number of children being admitted to mental health facilities. Yet, the release of this report demonstrates the degree to which they have failed to do so.

    The number of British children being detained in mental health hospitals for months at a time has more than doubled over the past four years, according to a scathing new report by the Children's Commissioner for England.

    In the report titled ‘Far Less Than They Deserve,' the Commissioner argues that far too many children in the UK are being locked away in such facilities unnecessarily and are spending endless months, and in some cases, even years in them.

    The number of youngsters, who are aged between 10-17, in mental health hospitals for a range of psychological issues had hit 250 by February 2019, according to the Commissioner. Moreover, the investigation discovered that on average, children with autism or other learning disabilities had spent about 184 days in such facilities, and 240 days in inpatient care overall.

    "There are around 250 children with a learning disability or autism in England living in children's mental health wards. They are some of the most vulnerable children of all, with very complex needs, growing up in institutions usually far away from their family home. For many of them this is a frightening and overwhelming experience. For many of their families it is a nightmare," the report says.

    Furthermore, Miss Longfield writes in the report that during her investigation she found, "shocking evidence of poor and restrictive practices" against the child patients. In one case, the commissioner cites a family who had spoken of how "their son had not been washed for six months while in hospital," and another incident in which a young girl was harshly restrained by hospital staff who "strained her wrist until it was numb."

    The commissioner goes on to argue for a "national strategy" to combat the issue of children spending unnecessarily prolonged durations of time within mental health hospitals. One of the key ways to do this, she says, is to challenge a healthcare culture in Britain's NHS that fails to emphasise early intervention before hospitalisation.

    "Hospital admission must be in a child's best interest and as part of a managed process, with clear timescales and a focus on keeping the length of stay as short as possible. This is clearly not happening at the moment and instead we have a system which is letting these children down," the Commissioner asserts.

    The report goes on to grimly conclude that, "this research has shown that too many children are admitted to hospital unnecessarily and spending months and years of their childhood in institutions when they do not need to be there."

    In response to the report, the Conservative government said that, "We are determined to reduce the number of autistic people or people with learning disabilities in mental health hospitals — significant investment in community support has already led to a 22% reduction since March 2015."

    Yet, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), who in a public statement described the Commissioner's report as "disturbing reading" appeared to take aim at the government, saying that, "it's clear that some of our most vulnerable children are still being horribly failed. No child should be left to languish alone and it's important that the Government takes urgent action to provide high quality, community based care that can prevent the need for children to be placed in secure hospitals."

    learning difficulties, Children, mental health, autism, UK Department of Health and Social Care, United Kingdom, London
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