Concerns over children’s mental health services
Less than a third of more than 338,000 children referred to services last year received treatment within the year.
Only a “small fraction” of children who need mental health support were able to access services last year, the Children’s Commissioner for England has said, as she called for every school to have an NHS counsellor available for pupils.
A new report by the champion for young people has laid bare some of the difficulties young people face in order to access services in England.
While services overall have improved, more must be done to ensure that children can get the help that they need, Anne Longfield said.
Of more than 338,000 children referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) last year, only 31% received treatment within the year, the report says.
Another 37% were not accepted into treatment or discharged after an assessment, and a further 32% were still on waiting lists at the end of the year, it adds.
Central to the issue of access is funding, with local NHS areas spending an average of just 1% of their budgets on children’s mental health, Ms Longfield said.
The report sets out how children’s mental health services need an additional £1.7 billion a year.
Ms Longfield said that providing help when problems emerge in childhood would reap benefits as youngsters enter adulthood.
It would also help keep children in school and potentially steer them away from risks such as gangs, she added.
The report praises progress in some services but adds: “Yet the rate of improvement is highly variable and …the increase in capacity is not keeping pace with increasing demand.
“Less than 3% of children in England accessed CAMHS last year, a small fraction of those who need help.”
Figures released later on Thursday are expected to show a rise in the number of children with mental health needs.
The Children’s Commissioner report adds that of the children who actually enter treatment, only half did so within six weeks.
Data released on Tuesday showed that among adults seeking talking therapy for anxiety and depression, 89.1% were seen within this time frame.
As well as calls for additional money for the service, Ms Longfield added that there should be a large expansion of specialist treatment services made available to children.
Meanwhile she called for better lower level mental health services to “ensure easy access before conditions deteriorate”.
“This should include an NHS-funded counsellor in every school,” Ms Longfield added in the foreword of the report.
The Commissioner also highlighted areas which appear to be performing badly compared with others, with Ealing clinical commissioning group described as the “worst performing area” followed by Hounslow, Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow and Hillingdon.
Other areas with poorly performing CCGs include Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Bradford and Leicester.
“I welcome the progress that is being made in some parts of the country and pay tribute to hardworking NHS staff who are delivering improvements to the system,” said Ms Longfield.
“However, there is still a vast gap between what is provided for children suffering from mental health problems and what is needed to treat them.
“The current rate of progress is still not good enough for the majority of children who require help.
“I want to see the Government and NHS England dramatically increasing the level of ambition for children’s mental health services.
“By 2023, the NHS should be in a position to ensure no child who needs help is turned away.
“There also needs to be a focus on early help. An NHS-funded counsellor in every school, providing a service that is accessible and child-friendly, would be transformative.”
Commenting on the report, Emma Thomas, chief executive of the charity YoungMinds, said: “We get calls every day to our helpline from parents whose children have been waiting for mental health support, or been turned down because thresholds for treatment are so high.
“This can have devastating consequences – in some cases, children start to self-harm, become suicidal or drop out of school while waiting for the help they need.
— YoungMinds (@YoungMindsUK) November 21, 2018
“While there have been some welcome improvements in recent years, services remain overstretched and inconsistent. That’s why it’s vital that the NHS long-term plan leads to more funding for CAMHS, and a greater emphasis on early intervention in local communities.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “As this report recognises, children and young people’s mental health services are improving, including rapid service expansion after decades of under-provision, and the fact is the NHS remains on track to improve access even in the face of growing demand.
“Widening access by 70,000 each year is just the start and the long-term plan for the NHS will have young people’s mental health front and centre, but we cannot do this alone and everyone must play their part to deliver the improvements in full – including the roll-out of new school and college-based support teams.”