Government urged to step up action to increase mental health staff numbers

By Harriet Line, Press Association Political Correspondent
The Public Accounts Committee found that recruitment work had progressed more slowly than planned.

Children with mental health conditions are being “failed” by the NHS and ministers must step up action to increase staff numbers to combat the problem, a group of MPs has said.

A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found that recruitment work had progressed more slowly than planned, and the “roadblock” was the Government’s “inability” to increase the number of mental health nurses.

The paper pointed to research that found just three in 10 children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition received NHS treatment in 2017/18, and that “many more faced unacceptably long waits for treatment”.

It criticised the Government for failing to explain what its commitment to providing “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health services means in practice.

The report noted that while there is a “welcome focus” on improving NHS mental health services for children and young people, there are still “significant gaps” in the data to monitor progress.

It urged the Government to make “urgent headway” in its efforts to provide the required mental health services and support for young people.

Labour’s Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC, said: “Children and young people with mental health conditions are being failed by the NHS.

“Provision is far below required levels and many people who do get help face long waits for treatment. This can be devastating for people’s life chances, their physical health, education and work prospects.

“The NHS must accelerate efforts to ensure it has the right staff with the right skills in the right places. But there is a broader role for Government in better supporting children and young people.

“Effective action on prevention and early intervention can help young people more quickly, as well as relieve pressures on health services.

“We will be keeping a close eye on the real-world impact of the measures proposed in the Government’s 10-year plan for the NHS.”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, welcomed the report.

She said: “The NHS 10-year plan will improve access to CAMHS for more children, but until the Government can guarantee that all children will get the specialist help they need, every year thousands of children will still miss out on treatment.

“The Government must be more ambitious about the resources and reforms needed to ensure every child who needs support receives it, when they need it.

“That will require policies like an NHS-funded counsellor in every school to identify and tackle problems early, and closer parity between what is spent on adult and child mental health services.”

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “We have long warned there is a crisis in children’s mental health, and this report provides further evidence of this stark reality.

“Currently one in eight 5 to 19 year olds have at least one mental health condition, and three in four children needing support do not have access to it.

“The Government has recognised the challenge ahead, including in the NHS 10 year plan published last week. Now it’s time to turn the rhetoric into action.”