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10.10.18

Children’s mental health services will fail to meet demand, NAO warns

The NHS has been criticised by Whitehall’s spending watchdog for failing to meet a growing demand for mental health services for children and young people, with only a quarter able to access the support they need.

In a report published yesterday, the National Audit Office (NAO) said that even if current initiatives are delivered, there will be “significant unmet need for mental health services amongst young people.”

The watchdog says that programmes to improve access to mental health services may uncover unidentified further demand and, despite the government starting to tackle the issue, there is still a long way to go to ensure equal access of care.

Currently, only 25% of children and young people who require help have been able to access NHS mental health services, but a number of initiatives aim to increase this proportion to 35% by 2020 – an additional 70,000 children and young people.

The NAO’s report said that the government’s current work to improve mental health support is an “important but modest step” towards addressing the problem.

The NAO found significant weaknesses and unreliability in the government’s data which undermines its progress and prompts questions of whether additional funding has been spent as intended.

Last week, NHS Clinical Commissioners published a report saying that “radical change” is needed to make emergency mental health care adequate.

NHS’s mental health services have been under heavy scrutiny for a while, and back in July NHS England’s chief executive announced that mental health, along with cancer care, were to become to primary focus of NHS funding.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Parity of esteem between physical and mental health services for children and young people is a laudable aim.

“However, to deliver meaningful change, this must be matched by the necessary planning, resourcing and co-ordination.

“Despite a welcome start, this aim remains far off. Current targets to improve care are modest and even if met would still mean two-thirds of those who need help are not seen.”

The department of health said it was committing an additional £1.4bn to children and young people’s mental health services from 2016-17 to 2020-21.

Local spending on these services has increased since the announcement, but NHS England cannot be sure that this has been spent as intended by CCGs and has limited powers to ensure this.

Slow progress on increasing the mental health workforce by 40% is also emerging as a major risk, the report says.

There is no data available to monitor the increase and, based on current progress, a quarter of the new posts will need to come from outside the NHS.

New government estimates expected in late 2018 will show that the number of children and young people with a mental health condition are likely even higher than previously expected.

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Image credit - KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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