Mentally ill teens sent to England with Ebbw Vale unit almost empty

The unit
Image caption The unit is low security for boys and girls aged 13 to 18

Teenagers who need treatment for mental illnesses are being sent to England despite there being beds available at a new unit in Wales.

The privately-run £2.5m Brenin Ward in Ebbw Vale opened last July and has 12 rooms for the most seriously ill.

But BBC Wales understands only three youngsters have been treated there. An ex-children's commissioner called the situation a "disgrace".

The Welsh government said it was up to doctors to decide which unit was best.

The private ward was set up by Regis Healthcare and it employs 40 people, with another ward awaiting registration with Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.

Those working there include teachers and occupational therapists as well as consultant psychiatrists and other clinical staff.

There are only two other in-patient facilities in Wales for children and young people with mental health needs in Conwy and Bridgend.

The only referrals to Ebbw Vale were two from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Wales, and one from England.


One Welsh family has spoken of its "frustration" and "distress" as a teenager could only be treated in residential units in England.

The girl's last stay was in an independently-run mental health facility in Orpington in Kent last September.

She was treated at three separate residential facilities in England - paid for by the NHS - in the three years since she was first diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder.

She also spent time as a patient in Bridgend.

BBC Wales understands that her case would have met the criteria for admission to Ebbw Vale but it was decided to send her to Kent instead.

Image caption Her father wanted her treated closer to home

"It was mentioned once in a meeting, that there might be a possibility of a place at Ebbw Vale, but there was no mention again," her father told BBC Wales.

"The place she was sent to did a very good job and they've helped her.

"But she was affected badly by the distance we'd had to travel, in terms of guilt and not wishing to place an additional burden on us."

He added: "I think our daughter lost hope on several occasions over the last three years, and also lost faith in us to some extent because we couldn't do what parents are supposed to do and fix the problems she was facing."

His daughter, now 18, is back living back at home and being treated in the community.

She said: "I lost the most important years of my childhood, being locked up far away from Wales had a big impact on my family and myself," she said.

The Assembly's children, young people and education committee last November warned that youngsters with mental illnesses were being let down by the lack of appropriate services available for them in Wales.

AMs questioned whether sufficient funding was being provided to CAMHS and expressed "serious concerns" about the service.

Former Children's Commissioner Keith Towler told BBC Wales it did not make any sense for young people from Wales to have to go England if there were empty beds here. He called it "an absolute disgrace."

He said he felt he had been "banging his head against a brick wall" about the issue throughout his time in the job.

Mr Towler has now called on Health Minister Mark Drakeford to intervene and ask why more beds are not being taken up at Ebbw Vale Hospital.

Image caption Each patient has an en-suite room like this one
Image caption The unit only accepts teenagers detained under the Mental Health Act.

Hospital referrals for youngsters who have been sectioned under CAMHS's remit are made through the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee (WHSSC).

Daniel Phillips, director of planning at WHSSC said NHS beds in Wales were always considered as part of patient needs, the quality of care and "importance of having care as close to home as possible".

He said in response to a significant increase in demand across the UK a national procurement exercise has taken place. Regis Healthcare is waiting to hear if it has been successful.

This process should be completed by Wednesday when a new national framework agreement will be in place.

The Welsh government wants to ensure there are common standards of care quality.

It said there had been a 103% increase in referrals over the last four years and added the overall mental health budget is up from £389m five years ago to £587m in 2014/15.

From April it hopes many more young people would be cared for in the community without the need for hospital treatment.

Regis Healthcare said it was pleased its unit has been highlighted as its focus was to "support young people and their families within Wales, who are in crisis".

It said it has recently opened a further 12 beds for informal emergency admissions of young people.

"We hope to work positively with all involved in CAMHS across Wales to provide this much needed provision, reducing the potential number of case studies such as those you have highlighted," said a spokesman.

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