Ministers pledge to end practice of putting youngsters in adult wards

Ministers have pledged to ensure that children suffering from mental health problems are not placed on adult wards after a long campaign waged by The Independent on Sunday.

Following an outcry over the fact that children as young as 12 are being incarcerated with adults in psychiatric institutions, the Government is preparing to ensure that children are not made to share wards with mentally ill adults.

In a surprise U-turn, ministers have privately indicated that they will amend the Mental Health Bill so that by law children under 16 must be treated in an "age-appropriate" environment.

The climb-down is a victory for The Independent on Sunday which last month revealed how children and teenagers are physically and verbally abused, left without proper therapy and housed with seriously disturbed adults.

It follows a campaign by a coalition of MPs, mental health pressure groups and peers, who argue that sending children with psychiatric problems to adult facilities is traumatic and cuts their chances of recovery.

Rosie Winterton, the minister for mental health, is to write immediately to health authorities telling them that putting a child under 16 on an adult ward would be seen as "a serious untoward incident".

One source close to the minister told The Independent on Sunday: "She is going to try to resolve this; it is really just a question of how. There isn't a great deal of disagreement there any more. It is absolutely right that something be done."

Those who have criticised the Government for not doing more to improve care for adolescents include Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the children's commissioner for England, who plans to make mental health one of his key campaigning areas. This week, Professor Aynsley-Green will meet Ms Winterton for the first time to demand action over the treatment of children on mental health wards. It is understood that one of his demands will be for a special notification system to be set up for children and teenagers kept on adult wards for more than 48 hours.

He said: "We want to see legislation that aims for greater provision for the special needs of young people and recognises their right to age-appropriate and effective treatment which has not always been available until now."

Story of our campaign

What we demanded:

Mentally ill people should have access to treatment when they need it. They should be able to make decisions about their care, and have the right to refuse treatment. They should not be detained unless they need treatment for their own benefit or have committed a crime. Services should be more flexible and accessible.

What has been done:

The original draft of the Mental Health Bill was put on hold following the 'IoS' campaign and widespread opposition from mental health professionals and politicians of all parties. A coalition of peers succeeded in amending the Bill in line with IoS demands and the wishes of experts.

What we want now:

We want the Government to accept the changes made in the House of Lords to the Bill. These would improve the welfare of patients, prevent children from being placed on adult wards and stop hospitals being turned into jails. If it does not grant concessions on these points it will squander a once-in-a-generation chance to radically improve care.