Norfolk children’s services boss reveals ‘scandal’ over mental health beds for young people

Sheila Lock, interim director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. Photo: Bill Smith

Sheila Lock, interim director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. Photo: Bill Smith

Norfolk's children's services boss has revealed a lack of available mental health beds for youngsters meant she had to create a makeshift unit in a children's home, so a 17-year-old could get desperately needed care.

And Sheila Lock said a 13-year-old spent a weekend in a police-guarded bed at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital last month because a suitable mental health bed could not be found.

Ms Lock, interim director of children's services, at Norfolk County Council, said: 'The reality is, for those youngsters whose difficulties have got to the point where they need an in-patient bed, we are really struggling.'

She said last year, a lack of what are known as tier 4 beds for children, meant she had to call Ofsted for special dispensation to be allowed to vary the use of a children's home, so the 17-year-old, deemed to be of high risk and in need of medical intervention, could use a bed there.

Ms Lock said: 'This was a child at risk because of the state of their health and we had to think outside of the box. I rang [health minister] Norman Lamb and said 'I have done this with this case, it's not right but it is the best outcome for this child at this time'.'

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In the other case, the council applied for a secure care order for a 13-year-old, but no beds were available. They ended up in a hospital bed, with a police guard.

Ms Lock said: 'I think it is a scandal. The whole issue of children's mental health is a national tragedy.'

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A spokesman for NHS England said there were about 60 tier 4 mental health beds in the Norfolk area and 56 extra beds had been added to the 1,386 tier 4 beds nationally over the past year.

But the council says the Norfolk beds are not always available for cases from the county, due to pressures from the rest of the country.

Dr Jacqueline Cornish, NHS England's national clinical director for children, young people and transition to adulthood, said: 'There is more work to be done but the additional £1.25bn pledged for children and adolescent mental health services in the budget will now help us to kick-start an upgrade in care for younger people and their families.

'The recent Future in Mind report included key proposals to support service improvement and a new taskforce launched last month will look at improving mental health services for all ages through a five year strategy.'

• Do you have a story about a local council? Call reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email

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