Young people have been placed on adult mental wards because of a shortage of nursing staff at Northern Ireland’s only inpatient unit for children with mental health problems, it has emerged.
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, which runs the Beechcroft Child and Adolescent Unit in south Belfast, has confirmed to Nursing Times that a “small number” of teenagers have been admitted to adult wards.
“In the past three weeks a small number of adolescents were admitted to adult wards due to staff shortages”
The trust said these measures had been triggered by nurse staffing shortages at the unit linked to wider shortages of nursing staff across Northern Ireland combined with staff turnover and sickness absence at the unit.
“Beechcroft Child and Adolescent Unit is currently experiencing a challenging nursing workforce position, primarily as a result of a regional shortage of nurses, staff leaving the unit to take up other posts and short-term sick leave,” said a spokesman.
He said the trust had taken steps to manage the situation and a contingency plan was in place that included bringing in additional nursing staff over the next few weeks.
He confirmed the unit was still open for admissions “where there is a clinical requirement to do so”.
He also said all young people who required inpatient treatment had been admitted to hospital.
“In the past three weeks a small number of adolescents were admitted to adult wards due to staff shortages,” he said.
“Beechcroft was not closed to admissions in this period,” he stressed.
He said he was not able to say how many young people had been admitted to adult wards.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on the exact number of admissions as this has the potential to identify individuals,” he explained.
As well as implementing short-term measures to fill staffing gaps, the trust told Nursing Times it was taking steps to boost nurse recruitment in the longer term.
This included staging a mental health and learning disability recruitment event on 20 July, which would see 12 applicants interviewed during the event.
“The trust is also considering additional ways to attract and retain staff including assistance with relocation and recruitment, a retention premium and the development of clinical career pathways to help retain nursing staff in the clinical environment,” said the spokesman.