Two stories that have dominated the health news over the last few days share a common theme: that young people with mental health problems are being let down by the medical establishment in the UK. An edition of the BBC’s Panorama programme, broadcast last night (Monday 11th April 2016) has encouraged conversation about the procedures by which deaths of young inpatients with mental health difficulties are reported and monitored. Panorama’s report follows research from a charity called Inquest that suggests that officials are unaware of the numbers of young mental health inpatients that have died in hospitals in recent years. Inquest’s own research suggests that there have been at least nine such deaths; while the government, which formerly acknowledged none of these deaths, are only accepting that there have been four. Alister Burt, minister for community and social care, has now acknowledged the discrepancies in the figures and called for further research. Representatives of Inquest, meanwhile, have been keen to highlight that the true number could be much higher than nine, since the NHS places nearly half of its young psychiatric patients in private institutions, which they have not been able to investigate; and official figures only cover those who have been committed to hospital or sectioned, leaving voluntary patients unaccounted for.
A similar story follows the release of think tank CentreForum’s recent report on the state of children and young people’s mental health. The report contains a number of significant findings, showing for example that mental health services ‘turn away’ nearly a quarter of all children and teenagers referred to them by friends, family, and their GPs. The report goes on to say that there are “high thresholds” set for these services’ “eligibility criteria” which prevent many young people experiencing mental health issues from receiving the early intervention that can be so crucial to the most effective treatment because their conditions are not seen as being serious enough. For example, some services were found to be denying support to children with anorexia whose body mass index (BMI) was not deemed to be low enough; and many services were sending even suicidal teenagers for simple “generic” support unless they exhibited “enduring suicidal ideation” – in other words, they had to have expressed a desire to kill themselves on more than one occasion in order to be given specialist treatment. The report also highlights a number of other concerning revelations, including waiting times of up to two and a half years for psychiatric treatment.
Finally, a more positive story has appeared over the last few days. After a number of announcements of potential breakthroughs in cancer treatment over the last few months, yet another has been announced: the development of a new cancer scanning or imaging technique that will allow doctors to see very quickly how well a treatment is working on a particular patient, and adjust their treatment programme accordingly. The technique uses a chemical called pyruvate – a non-radioactive form of carbon which is broken down by cancer cells and easily tracked with MRI scans. The more quickly the pyruvate is broken down, the stronger the cancer cells and the less effective the treatment is found to be. This treatment has now been tested on a patient in the UK for the first time, and researchers have declared that it could “potentially mean that doctors will find out much more quickly if a treatment is working for their patient instead of waiting to see if a tumour shrinks”.
As always, let us know what you make of these stories in the comments section below. Have you had any experiences – good or bad – with psychiatric care for young people in the UK? What do you think of this new cancer treatment, as well as all of the others that have been mentioned in the news recently? Let’s talkhealth!