Children’s mental health services reach breaking point as Covid sees demand soar

85 per cent of NHS trust leaders polled said they could not meet the demand for eating disorder services

Covid-19 has resulted in a spike in demand for children and young people’s mental health services
Covid-19 has resulted in a spike in demand for children and young people’s mental health services

Mental health services for children and young people are at breaking point, with 100 per cent of NHS trust leaders polled stating that demand has increased compared to six months ago, according to a new survey.

A poll of 35 NHS mental health trust leaders in England by NHS Providers found that 80 per cent described the spike in demand for services as “significant”, while 20 per cent called it “moderate”.

85 per cent said they could not meet the demand for eating disorder services, while two thirds said they were unable to meet demand for community and inpatient CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

The survey also reveals that rising numbers of children and young people are presenting at A&E with mental health problems, such as self-harm and suicidal thoughts, with one trust leader stating they had witnessed an increase of up to 50 per cent.

An increase in the complexity of cases due to the pandemic was cited as the reason for the spike in demand by 88 per cent of those polled, while an additional demand for services because of Covid-19 was cited by 42 per cent of trust leaders.

A lack of suitable social care provision (42 per cent), not enough patient beds (36 per cent) and staff shortages (33 per cent) were also named as barriers to services not being met.

Some 78 per cent of those polled said they were extremely (47 per cent) or moderately (31 per cent) concerned about their trust’s ability to meet the level of anticipated demand over the next 12-18 months, while 85 per cent of trust leaders said they were concerned about staff wellbeing, stress levels and burnout.

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: “Covid-19 has clearly had a big impact on children's lives and their mental health.

“As the NHS focuses on recovery from the pandemic, we must recognise the extent of its impact on mental health services and ensure they also get the focus and attention they need.

“Despite welcome support and improved funding for some mental health services over recent years, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the impact of rising demand and chronic underinvestment in beds, workforce and capital. We are now into a time of reckoning.”

She added that the findings offered evidence that mental health services “must be an absolute priority”.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England's national mental health director, said: “The pandemic has turned lives upside down, hitting young people particularly hard and in some areas, staff are now treating more children and young people than ever before - the NHS has responded rapidly to the increased demand with a wide range of services available for those who need help, including through 183 mental health support teams working with schools across the country.”

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