NHS finds bed for suicidal teenage girl after judge warns authorities could have 'blood on their hands'

Girl will be given 'safe and appropriate care' after extraordinary intervention by High Court judge

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 05 August 2017 13:18 BST
A High Court judge ordered his scathing remarks from the private case to be made public
A High Court judge ordered his scathing remarks from the private case to be made public (AFP/Getty)

The NHS says it has found a safe bed for a suicidal teenage girl after a senior judge warned that authorities would have “blood on our hands” if she was forced out of a secure unit.

The girl, known only as X to protect her identity, has made “determined” attempts to kill herself since being detained shortly before her 17th birthday.

Sir Justice James Munby launched an extraordinary intervention after being told there were places available for her to be cared for in an “appropriate clinical setting” when she is released on 14 August.

The judge, who sits as president of the High Court’s family division, ordered his judgement in the private case be made public and sent to NHS England and senior Government ministers to expose the “outrage” that is the “lack of proper provision for X – and, one fears, too many like her”.

NHS England swiftly announced efforts were underway to select a suitable placement from a “number of options” identified.

Dr Mike Prentice, medical director for the NHS North Region, said: “Following extensive assessments, the NHS has identified a bed for this young woman in a safe and appropriate care setting which will best meet her needs.

"The bed will be available ahead of the release date."

Barbara Keeley, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, wrote to Jeremy Hunt calling for urgent action on the case and fund increased provision for children and young people “in a mental health crisis”.

“As Sir James Munby has said, if the current state of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is the best we can do, what right does the state have to call itself civilised?” she said.

In a report published in May 2016, the Children’s Commissioner reported that 3,000 children and young people had been referred to CAMHS mental health services with a life-threatening condition like suicide, self-harm, psychosis or anorexia nervosa but 14 per cent were not allocated any provision and more than half went on a waiting list.

In a damning judgement, Justice Munby said the case of girl X demonstrated a “well-known scandal - the disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision” fo increasing numbers of young people suffering from severe mental illness.

“We are, even in these times of austerity, one of the richest countries in the world. Our children and young people are our future,” he added.

“X is part of our future. It is a disgrace to any country with pretensions to civilisation, compassion and, dare one say it, basic human decency, that a judge in 2017 should be faced with the problems thrown up by this case and should have to express himself in such terms.”

Sir Justice James Munby ordered his judgment in the private case be made public to expose the ‘lack of proper provision’ for the girl
Sir Justice James Munby ordered his judgment in the private case be made public to expose the ‘lack of proper provision’ for the girl (PA)

In a private hearing, the High Court had heard warnings from staff at the unit where the girl is currently staying that her “goal to kill herself” has intensified in recent weeks and that if she is sent back to her home town “it will not take more than 24 to 48 hours before they receive a phone call” saying she is dead.

Distressing testimony to the court revealed that the girl was “actively expressing a wish to die and taking every measure available to harm herself” including swallowing objects, attempting to hang herself and self-harming.

The teenager, who was previously convicted in a youth court, also suffers from asthma and a heart murmur that puts her at risk of respiratory failure if staff restrain her for her own safety.

Justice Munby said he personally felt “shame and embarrassment” at his powerlessness to do more for the 17-year-old, who must leave the unit no later than 3pm on 14 August.

"If, when in 11 days' time she is released from ZX [the unit], we, the system, society, the state, are unable to provide X with the supportive and safe placement she so desperately needs, and if, in consequence, she is enabled to make another attempt on her life, then I can only say, with bleak emphasis: we will have blood on our hands,” he concluded.

A further hearing had been scheduled for Monday to consider revised care plans for the girl.

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