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More children admitted to hospital for mental health than medical reasons, leading pediatrician says

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
 The latest NHS figures showed the number of children referred to child and adolescent mental health services was 4,615 per 100,000
The latest NHS figures showed the number of children referred to child and adolescent mental health services was 4,615 per 100,000

The number of children admitted to hospital for mental health reasons now outstrips those with medical conditions, a leading pediatrician has said.

Prof Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said this is a phenomenon that pediatricians have seen across the UK since the start of the pandemic.

He was addressing MPs at the education select committee which was hearing evidence on the science behind school closures.

It comes after a survey by the Prince’s Trust found that one in four young people feels unable to cope with life and that crisis has taken a "devastating toll" on teenagers and young adults.

Prof Viner was asked by Dr Caroline Johnson, a Tory MP and practising consultant pediatrician, whether more children were now being admitted to hospital for mental health reasons than physical ailments.

She said: “On a recent shift that I did at hospital, there were more acutely unwell children admitted for mental health presentations than there were acutely medically unwell children? Is that an unusual pattern or is that a pattern that you are seeing in other parts of the country too?”

Prof Viner, who is a professor of adolescent health at University College London’s Institute of Child Health, replied: “Yes, that is absolutely a pattern that our pediatricians around the country have told us about since the beginning of the pandemic.”

He said that social distancing has led to a reduction in other viruses and in transmission of other infections that would usually lead to children requiring hospital treatment.

“We have seen across all of our children's wards a bit of a shift towards more mental health problems being the reasons that children come into children’s wards, which is not necessarily the best place for them,” he added.

The latest NHS figures showed the number of children referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) was 4,615 per 100,000, the highest on record and up nearly 20 per cent on last year.

Prof Viner said that school closures have affected children's mental health in a number of different ways and that a number of international studies have attempted to quantify this.

He explained that a number of different issues have arisen in children as a result of being kept at home such as difficulty sleeping, a reduction in physical activity and reduced wellbeing.

Earlier this month, the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned the Covid pandemic risks a generation being lost to “lifelong” illness. It said that school closures, cancelled exams, empty lecture halls and lockdown threatened a mental health crisis that could plague the current generation of children for years to come.

Half of the college’s child psychiatrists are reporting an increase in emergency or urgent cases, she said, while one in six children now have a mental health problem, according to NHS research, up from one in nine just three years ago.