‘Complete overhaul’ of young people’s mental health services needed

A “complete overhaul” is needed for children and young people’s mental health services, the government will say today.

 This comes after a government-commissioned Taskforce found that too many young people are missing out on vital support. 

A blueprint will be set out by the care and support minister, Norman Lamb MP, for improving care over the next five years. 

Several recommendations have been made in the Department of Health and NHS England-led report, including tackling stigma and improving attitudes towards mental illness, changing the way services are commissioned and providing continued support through teenage years.

Lamb said: “I want to change the way we think about mental health care so that any child, whether they have a mental illness or simply need support through a difficult time, can get the right help at the right time.” 

Although the report has been widely welcomed by mental health charities, Rebecca Cotton, Mental Health Network’s director of policy, said that around one in 10 children aged between five and 16 years of age will have a mental health problem, and all too often those children do not currently access the help and support they need. 

“We all know that intervening early is vitally important. Over the past few years, it’s been positive to see increasing attention being paid to mental health by political leaders from all parties,” she said. 

“However, over the last five years that increased attention has sadly not translated into investment on the ground.  In fact, we have decidedly moved backwards. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have been subject to unacceptable cuts over the past few years. 

“That’s why the government’s commitment of an extra £250m a year in funding for CAMHS, expected in Wednesday’s Budget, will be particularly welcomed by providers of mental health services. This much needed investment should enable more children can access the help they need in future.” 

At the weekend, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, announced that there would be an additional £1.25bn (£250m per year over five years) funding for CAMHS to introduce both an access target and waiting times standards for children and young people with mental health problems. 

Over the last six months, a Taskforce – co-chaired by Martin McShane, NHS England’s director for patients with long term conditions, and Jon Rouse, director general for social care, local government and care partnerships – has developed proposals to improve CAMHS. 

The new report sets out how much of this can be achieved through better links between the NHS, local authorities, charities, schools and other local services. 

Proposals include: 

  • Tackling stigma and improving attitudes to mental illness by building on the success of Time to Change and developing a targeted campaign to create a culture where young people and their families are not afraid to seek help.
  • Information and self-help via online tools and apps with approved information and support that will help young people ‘self-care’ and know how to seek professional help if they need it.
  • Changing the way services are commissioned so that care is based around the needs of children and their families and they can get the right support from the right service at the right time.
  • Continued support throughout teenage years in to early 20s to avoid a cliff-edge of lost support at 18.
  • ‘One stop shop’ support services in the community so that anyone needing support knows where to find it.
  • Improved care for children and young people in crisis so they are treated in the right place at the right time, as close to home as possible. This would build on the work of the Crisis Care Concordat to make sure no-one under 18 experiencing a mental health crisis is detained in a police cell.
  • More support for parents to help them improve family relationships, avoid early trauma, support their children to build resilience and improve behaviour.
  • Mental health training for health professionals, including GPs, and others who work with children and young people such as staff in schools to help them identify problems and make sure children and young people get the help they need.
  • Improved access for children and young people who are particularly vulnerable, such as looked after children and care leavers, and those in contact with the youth justice system. 

Commenting on the report, Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “There are at least 850,000 children in the UK with a diagnosed mental health condition yet 75% do not receive the support they are entitled to and need. 

“This report makes a series of recommendations which would go some way to address this – promoting whole school approaches to tackle mental health problems and early intervention pilots to name just two. 

“But these solutions are only going to work if there are substantial resources poured into the system – something that the £1.25bn investment in mental health services, announced on Saturday, will certainly help - and there is true integration across agencies.” 

During the development of the report, the Taskforce drew inspiration from some of the best services in the country for children and young people, including joint working in Liverpool where key organisations, including the NHS and local authority, work together to commission services. 

Jon Rouse, director general for social care, local government and care partnerships at the Department of Health, said: “This report will provide an excellent opportunity to transform children’s mental healthcare for the better. Over the last six months, the Taskforce has looked at a wide range of models of care and developed achievable plans that I hope every area of the country can take forward.” 

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, added that the current system is too fractured, too complex and too under-resourced. 

“Without change it will continue to fail child after child and family after family. We welcome the report of the Taskforce but this has to be the start of a journey and not the end,” she said. 

But Labour’s shadow public health minister, Luciana Berger MP, stated that the report’s authors found that “David Cameron’s NHS reorganisation” created confusion and fragmentation which, when combined with a reduction in support for mental health services, left the most vulnerable children without the support they need. 

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