20 hour wait for help

DESPERATE and suicidal teenagers have been left stranded in Ipswich's A&E department for hours on end, The Evening Star can reveal today.After one teenage girl's 13-hour wait for help, with no adolescent psychiatrist on duty in Suffolk, and A&E staff not knowing which way to turn, she was taken on a three-hour journey to Surrey where she later plunged to the ground from a hospital building and was critically injured.

DESPERATE and suicidal teenagers have been left stranded in Ipswich's A&E department for hours on end, The Evening Star can reveal today.

After one teenage girl's 13-hour wait for help, with no adolescent psychiatrist on duty in Suffolk, and A&E staff not knowing which way to turn, she was taken on a three-hour journey to Surrey where she later plunged to the ground from a hospital building and was critically injured.

Behind the scenes, mental health bosses admit the situation is unacceptable but revealed it is unlikely to change soon because their hands are tied by the NHS's cash crisis.

They say there is simply not enough money available to fund a 24-hour on-call service to help children and adolescents with mental health problems.


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The above incident happened early last month when a 15-year-old girl was admitted to Ipswich Hospital's A&E department after self-harming.

She then faced an agonising 13 hour wait to see a psychiatrist, during which time she ran away from the hospital and had to be bought back to the hospital by police.

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When a treatment centre was eventually found for her it was 120 miles away in Surrey and the day after arriving there she fell from the roof of a building, ending up in a critical condition in hospital.

A spokeswoman for the Surrey Ambulance Trust said they had been called to a hospital where a 15-year-old female “appeared to have jumped off a high ledge on to a floor.”

In the second incident a 17-year-old boy was forced to wait more than 20 hours for psychiatric treatment after arriving at A&E having self-harmed.

He was admitted to the department at 3pm on October 16 and did not see a mental health specialist until lunchtime the next day.

Alan Staff, director of modernisation at the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust, said investigations were being carried out in to both of these cases but added that, despite the growing numbers of young people self-harming, these long waits were not uncommon.

He said: “It would be fairly normal for a young person to go into hospital and for it to take maybe 11 or 12 hours.

“If they come in early evening they would have to wait until the following morning for a mental health specialist to see them.”

He could not go into detail on either of the incidents but said a full investigation was ongoing in each case.

He said: "We treat every incident like that as an untoward incident which means it is fully investigated.

"We are taking them very seriously and want to do everything we can within our resources to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

Mr Staff admitted the level of provision for young people in these circumstances was unacceptable.

He said: "It's not an unusual position to be in - less than 50pc of trusts in the country have their own full on-call system or their own beds - but that does not mean that it's acceptable."

In this case the teenage girl who needed treatment in a residential centre was taken to the Alpha Hospital in Knaphill, near Woking - an independent adolescent unit which treats young people aged 13-17 and takes emergency admissions from across the south east of England - but she could have ended up even further away from home.

Because there are no Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) beds in Suffolk children in crisis have to be sent wherever there is one available.

Mr Staff said: “When a crisis like this one arises staff literally have to go through a list of all the places in the country that take emergencies and see if they have any spaces at that point in time.

"We can't look at what's best value for money and we can't look at what's best for the patient and may have to end up sending them miles away.

"On average I would say this happens at least once a week in the Ipswich area, sometimes a lot more. Often I can have consultants tied up for days doing this.

“What I would stress is that when children do have to be treated out of the county they are visited regularly by our staff and their progress is reviewed. It's not a case of out of sight out of mind."

Has a young member of your family had problem getting help for mental health problems? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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