Oxford Health is pleased to announce that work to build a new eight-bed psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) at the Warneford Hospital is now under way.

The £4 million building, supported by NHS England/Improvement funding, will enable young people experiencing the most acutely disturbed phase of a serious mental disorder to receive specialist help closer to home.

Set to be built alongside the award-winning Highfield Adolescent Inpatient Unit on the Warneford site in Oxford, the facility will provide inpatient mental health care, assessment and comprehensive treatments for young people across the Thames Valley region.

It is part of a new regional model for the delivery of specialised mental health care for children and young people, the Thames Valley CAMHS Tier 4 Provider Collaborative, which is being led by Oxford Health. Working alongside other care providers, it is a pioneering approach that seeks to share resources and expertise to deliver excellent and joined up care.

Set to open in early 2022, service users’ will be consulted in developing the interior look and layout of the PICU ahead of the opening and a recruitment campaign will soon be launched to ensure the necessary specialist workforce is in place.

Debbie Richards, Executive Managing Director for Mental Health, Learning Disabilities and Autism, at the site of the new unit

Debbie Richards, Executive Managing Director, Mental Health, Learning Disabilities and Autism, said:

“This specialist PICU unit is essential so that young people can be cared for as close to home as possible to ensure the best possible outcomes.

“We have seen an increase in demand and acuity during COVID. As the lead provider for the Thames Valley CAMHS Tier 4 Provider Collaborative, our clinicians are constantly managing regional and local pressures on beds. This additional capacity will be a most welcome and timely addition.”

Tony James and Sarah Firth

Tony James, Consultant at Highfield Adolescent Unit, who is pictured (above) with Highfield Matron Sarah Firth, said:

“I am delighted that construction is commencing on the PICU unit. It will provide a range of specialist programmes to enable a more comprehensive inpatient care pathway.”

PICUs provide containment of short-term behavioural disturbance which cannot be contained within a Tier 4 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) general in-patient setting, including within a high dependency area.

Behaviours of those admitted will be associated with a serious risk of either suicide, absconding with a significant threat to safety, aggression or vulnerability.

Evidence-based pathways in community-based care, including intensive home treatment where appropriate, aim to avoid unnecessary admissions to inpatient care.

However, it is recognised there will always be some children and young people who require more intensive and specialised inpatient care.


The core objectives of the PICU will be to:

  • Assess and treat mental disorder; reduce the risk of harm a young person poses to self and others; manage acute mental and behavioural disturbance which is not manageable in non-secure Tier 4 CAMHS settings
  • Provide a time-limited (days/weeks) intervention which will enable a safe transition to an appropriate alternative mental health setting as soon as this is possible; support recovery and promote adolescent developmental tasks.
  • Provide a range of specialist treatment and education programmes delivered either individually or within groups with the aim of safely returning the young person to a non-secure Tier 4 CAMHS as soon as this is clinically indicated