Lost in transition

By Clare Yeowart 25 June 2009

The Royal College of General Practitioners (the UK’s membership body for general practice doctors) today called for an urgent review of adolescent healthcare as ‘too many young people are getting lost in the system’: see BBC News. Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College, commented that the handover between child and adult health services is ‘not done very well in most places’ and young people are suffering as a result.

The proposed review would be something that NPC welcomes. Our research into issues such as mental health, autism and disability has highlighted the difficulties involved in the transition from child to adult services. Adult services often have a markedly different approach to children’s services and, if the transition is handled badly, this can be confusing and alienating for young people. In some cases, the same level of support is simply no longer available. For example, a teenager with a condition typically associated with childhood, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), may struggle to find specialist help beyond the age of 18. Or young people with learning disabilities who received support for special educational needs at school may find that they are not eligible for adult social care—meaning that they will have to face one of the most difficult transitions of their life on their own.

There is certainly a case for reviewing statutory health and social care services. But NPC would also hope that, if the review goes ahead, it will take into account the role that charities can play—and, indeed, already are playing—in bridging the gap between child and adult services and providing the sort of accessible support that vulnerable teenagers need. This was discussed in our recent report on children and young people’s mental health, Heads up, and is an issue we are researching further for a report on the transition of disabled young people—so watch this space for more info on the subject.