Mental Health

31.05.16

Nearly a third of children turned away from mental health services

Serious shortcomings in support for children with mental health problems have been highlighted by a new report from the Children’s Commissioner.

A survey of 48 NHS trusts found an average of 28% of children referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) being turned away, while 58% were placed on a waiting list.

Among children with life-threatening conditions such as suicidal thoughts, self-harm, anorexia and psychosis, 14% were turned away and 15% were placed on a waiting list.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England said: “Children and young people consistently tell me that they need better mental health support but the information we have received paints a picture of provision that is patchy, difficult to access and unresponsive.

“Behind the stats are countless stories of children and young people in desperate circumstances not getting the vital support they need.”

The survey also exposed a postcode lottery of services. The number of children not being allocated services was as low as 6% in some regions and as high as 75% in others.

One CAMHS in the north west had a waiting time of just 14 days, but at another in the West Midlands it reached 200 days.

The different services surveyed also reported that they had to set thresholds on when children could get services, with 73% doing this by age, 71% by severity of mental illness and 40% by duration of symptoms and 46% only catering for certain symptoms.

Furthermore, 35% reported they would restrict young people’s access to services if they missed appointments.

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of young people’s mental health charity YoungMinds, blamed the performance shortfall on spending cuts across the system.

“The truth is that years of underfunding have left the whole system overwhelmed,” she said. “Many local authorities have repeatedly had their budgets slashed on things like social workers, support programmes for parents, educational psychologists and targeted mental health services in schools. This has put a huge burden on services further up the chain, which simply can’t cope with the demand.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: "While the data in this report des not substantiate the conclusions drawn, it is clearly the case that CAMHs services need to expand and the additional £1.4bn pledged will help us to do that."

However, Brennan said the money needed to be “protected and spent where it’s needed most”.

A Department for Health spokesperson said the department was “creating new joined up plans” to improve mental health care in schools and the community.

Last year a government taskforce said a ‘complete overhaul’ of young people’s mental health services is needed.

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