SUPPORT has been given for the expansion of a mental health care site to provide a local psychiatric intensive care unit for children and young people.

Last year 33 vulnerable children and adolescents had to be sent out of Dorset for treatment - in some cases as far away as Manchester - due to a lack of beds closer to home.

One local parent, whose daughter has had four out-of-county placements since her mental health began to deteriorate four years ago, said she and her husband had been forced to travel almost 28,000 miles to support her – the equivalent of a trip around the world plus a one-way journey to New York.

The Dorset Mental Health Forum and Police & Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill are backing Dorset HealthCare’s plans for new psychiatric intensive care facilities on its site in Alumhurst Road.

As reported recently, the plans lodged with Bournemouth council include a purpose-built, eight-bed unit for young people with the most complex needs.

The building would effectively expand the Trust’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) inpatient unit, Pebble Lodge, which has been operating on the site since 2013.

Dorset Mental Health Forum’s operations director, Sarah Rose, said the provision of local beds was “vital”.

“When a child or young person experiences acute mental distress, it is a traumatic event for the young person, their families and friends. Children and young people should expect as a minimum to receive appropriate help in a timely way as close to their support networks as possible. This new unit is an important step to ensuring that our young people in Dorset receive the same opportunities for recovery from mental health problems as adults in our county do.”

She added: “If we were on a lower income, had other young children, and no friends to lean on, we would have had long gaps where we just could not see our daughter, or get to know the professionals caring for her. Her stays in remote units would have been longer and her mental health slower to stabilise.

“If only our daughter could have walked through a door to the right care, instead of being terrified as she entered a secure ambulance to face a six-hour journey, what a difference that would have made to her.”

The proposed unit would be a fully secure facility and the development – which includes landscaping to compensate for the proposed loss of some trees – is designed to have negligible impact on the character and appearance of the neighbourhood, the Trust says.

PCC for Dorset, Martyn Underhill, said: “There is an undeniable need for a local psychiatric intensive care unit for children and young people in Dorset. It’s simply not acceptable that children and adolescents are sent away from their families to receive the treatment they need.

“Mental health issues can affect anyone at any age and having the right support is vital, and that support should be made available locally.”