Speaking at the QUB nurses’ winter graduation, the Commissioner said he wanted to hear views and experiences especially from young people themselves and also from their families and professionals within the different parts of the health service.
Mr Williams said: “I would encourage you all to share your own experiences with me then I will be able to build up a better picture of what the issues are. Later next year, I can decide whether I need a more detailed investigation of some kind.
“There is a clear gap in provision for adolescents in mental health. Teenagers with eating disorders or with serious psychiatric problems have very few dedicated facilities in Northern Ireland. As a result, if they need to be admitted to hospital they will end up on general wards, with adults some quite elderly with a range of problems,” he said.
The Commissioner welcomed current work being undertaken by the Government in their review of mental health services.
“I commend the work already done in improving gaps in teenage healthcare. There is a special unit for adolescents at the Ulster Hospital, and a psychiatric unit for teenagers in south Belfast. Voluntary agencies in this field are working on issues like sexual health, risk taking behaviour and mental health. But the message I as receiving is that the situation is patchy, there are gaps and that our teenagers are suffering as a result.
“Similar issues arise in community health provision. Adolescents are often the forgotten group – even though so many of the important patterns of healthy living are established during this time of our lives: our diet, exercise or lack or it, issues of sexual health and risk taking behaviour like smoking, alcohol and drugs,” said Mr Williams.
He urged the graduate nurses to reach out to the adolescent age group in the course of their work. “The nursing school could play an important role in helping prepare nurses for the challenge of treating teenagers. Look out for them. Get alongside them and listen to their views and support them whatever health issues they are facing. You could be a crucial link in helping them to recovery, especially in the vital area of their own self-esteem.
“I hope that, with the combined efforts of us all, we can improve health care provision for adolescents. That may mean adjusting some of our existing facilities or building news ones. It may mean better training and more targeted programmes. Perhaps we need to give adolescents more choice, some will want to continue to use paediatric services for longer, some may be happy with adult provision while others may need a more dedicated service.”
Anyone wishing to share their views with the Commissioner can write to her at Equality House, 7-9 Shaftesbury Square, Belfast, BT2 7DP or go to the Commissioner’s website at www.niccy.org
Nigel Williams is available for print/broadcast media interviews. Any media wishing to avail of this facility should contact Emma Flynn Davies at the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister at 028 9037 8107 or 07798 676462.