Over 100 teenagers suffering mental illness have had to be admitted to adult psychiatric units this year because of a lack of suitable facilities for juveniles.
The scale of the problem emerged after four teenagers -- one aged just 14 -- were admitted to the Waterford adult mental health services in the past few days.
Waterford Regional Hospital has a 44-bed psychiatric unit that is meant to be for adults only -- but there is nowhere in the south-east for teenagers suffering mental health problems.
A spokesman for the Health Service Executive (HSE) revealed yesterday that provisional figures to the end of August showed that 100 teenagers around the country had faced the same predicament this year.
"Of these, 43 are under 17 and 57 are under 18," he said. "The admission of young adults aged 16 and older to adult facilities is not in breach of mental-health regulations.
"However, from December this year, the age limit for precluding admission to adult units is being raised to 17. From December 1, 2011, this age limit will be raised to 18.
"Where a young person is admitted to an adult facility, it is usually for a limited period of time -- for example, over a weekend -- and an appropriate care plan and placement is arranged for them as soon as possible."
The spokesman said that more than 6,000 children and adolescents suffering from mental-health problems were being treated within the community.
He added: "On average, 400 children and adolescents (under-18) are admitted to mental-health acute in-patient beds annually.
"The imperative is to ensure their safety and that may require admission to an adult unit, pending admission to a child and adolescent unit."
In 2006, there were 16 in-patient beds dedicated to child and adolescent mental health services.
This has now been expanded to 32. New units are due to open next month, bringing the capacity to 52 by the end of 2010.
A spokesperson for Waterford Regional said it was "exceptional and uncommon" for a teenager under 17 to be admitted to an adult psychiatric unit.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said teenagers were turning up at hospital emergency departments all over the country with mental-health complaints. Consultants were admitting them to general children's wards in some cases, instead of turning them away.
They receive one-to-one psychiatric care in the paediatric wards, but the situation was described as "far from ideal".
PNA chairman Liam MacNamara said: "If a child receives the proper treatment, they may never have a problem again."