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Over 50,000 children turned away from specialist MH services

Children suffering with mental health conditions are frequently not being accepted into specialist services they have been referred to, new research has warned.

A new report looking into access and waiting times in children and young people’s mental health services by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has revealed that over a quarter (26.3%) of children referred to specialist mental health services were not accepted in 2016-17.

This represents around 50,000 children not being admitted into services. The research also showed considerable variation across the country, as the rate of children being turned away varied from 5% to as high as 50% in some areas.

Waiting times, however, were found to be going down, as the average of all providers’ median waiting times for assessment fell from 39 days in 2015-16 to 33 days in 2016-17.

But again, waiting times were different across England, with the wait for treatment averaging at five days in South Staffordshire and Shropshire to 112 days in Dudley and Walsall.

To tackle these issues, the EPI suggested a number of measures, including the government releasing information on access and waiting times in a comparable format and standardising data collection and publication.

EPI researchers added that the forthcoming Green Paper on mental health and schools should include measures to provide early intervention more consistently at a local level.

“Although the findings should be taken with caution, this report does highlight the difficulties that a significant number of children and young adults face to access the most appropriate mental health services for their needs,” said Saffron Cordery, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers.

“Delays in accessing these services can have a detrimental impact on the mental health of young people as they are forced to wait for treatment and their condition may worsen.

“Our recent report ‘The state of the NHS Provider sector’ showed that demand and staffing pressures are especially severe for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and providers are concerned that they will struggle further to deliver much-needed care to young people in mental health crisis.”

Cordery added that the reasons for refused referrals also suggest that early intervention or non-specialist services would be more appropriate for many young people, but are not available or need investment to cope with the level of demand.

“It is critical that funding earmarked for mental health services reaches the frontline so that the right level of services can be provided where they are most needed,” she continued.

“The findings do suggest that the overall level of unaccepted referrals is falling. We hope to see this fall further as we see the impact of improvements driven by the Five year forward view for mental health.”

The EPI’s report is the latest piece of research to lay bare the state of mental health care for young people in England.

Back in August, the BMA warned that some children’s care was being categorised as ‘in area’ despite them being forced to travel up to 200 miles away to get care.

And a separate EPI report earlier this year suggested that overcrowded hospitals were leading to thousands of children being cared for in adult wards.

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