Britain has one of the lowest numbers of hospital beds in Europe for young people struggling with serious mental health problems, EU-funded research has found.
It is lagging far behind the level of provision in many much poorer countries in eastern Europe, such as Latvia, Estonia and Slovakia, according to a study of care for troubled under-18s across the EU.
Britain has 9.4 specialist inpatient beds per 100,000 young people for those who are suffering from conditions such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. That places it 18th in a league table of the 28 EU countries, researchers say.
Germany has the most, at 64 beds per 100,000 young people, and Sweden has the least, at just 1.2 beds. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have 39.5, 31.5 and 21 beds per 100,000 under-18s.
The UK is even lower down the EU league table for the number of psychiatrists specialising in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). With just 4.5 psychiatrists per 100,000 young people, it comes 21st. That is far fewer than Finland, which has the most, at 36 such specialistsper 100,000 under-18s.
On that measure, Britain is again behind a raft of east European countries such as Estonia (16.8), Lithuania (14) and Latvia (11.2). Bulgaria, the country with the fewest, has only 1.9 psychiatrists for every 100,000 children and young people.
Experts warned that the UK’s low rankings meant that troubled under-18s were not getting the care they needed.
“Our youth deserve better than what they currently receive. Despite being the sixth-richest country in the world, and with a health service that is said to be the ‘envy of the world’, when it comes to mental health provision for children and young people, the UK sadly lags behind other EU countries on many indicators, especially on the number of CAMHS psychiatrists”, said Prof Swaran Singh of Warwick University, referring to the NHS’s child and adolescent mental health services.
Singh is one of the academics involved in the Milestone project, to which the EU has given €6m (£5.18m) to look into CAMHS care, including its availability, across the 28 countries.
“The Milestone project has shown how far we are from providing much-needed help and care to vulnerable young people at the time of their greatest need. Despite repeated promises by successive governments of increased funding into youth mental health care, the state of the services remains parlous,” added Singh.
Tom Madders, director of campaigns at the charity YoungMinds, said that the UK’s lack of beds was forcing young people in a mental health crisis to travel far from home simply to get a bed in an NHS unit.
“If young people are so unwell that they need inpatient care, it’s vital that they can get it quickly and as close to home as possible. But, at the moment, families in the UK are too often forced to travel long distances to inappropriate out-of-area placements because services are overstretched,” Madders said.
Meanwhile, new research has also found that GP services need to be able to offer longer appointments to people who are thinking about killing themselves, if GPs are to help reduce the number of those deaths.
While only 2,000 of the 6,000 people a year who kill themselves have contact with NHS mental health services before their death, many more have seen their family doctor. Better GP training in support for those at risk, and more emotional support for them, would offer more potentially life-saving care to those with thoughts of self harm, according to findings published by the Centre for Mental Health thinktank and the Samaritans.