Children and young people with mental health problems waiting up to 18 months before they get help, finds report

Investigators find youngsters are facing ‘agonising waits’ for treatment

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 27 October 2017 00:36 BST
A third of children’s mental health workers say their service is facing cuts or closure
A third of children’s mental health workers say their service is facing cuts or closure (Getty/iStock)

The Government has been accused of “neglecting” children’s mental health after it emerged some youngsters are waiting more than a year to be treated.

A major review by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) of mental health services for young people has found that vulnerable children are facing “agonising waits” for treatment, with one young person who spoke to investigators waiting for 18 months.

During prolonged waits, children and young people are unable to access the support they need, causing their mental health to deteriorate further, with some starting to self-harm, become suicidal or drop out of school during the wait to receive support, the report found.

The findings also showed that even when children do access treatment, the services were not always adequate to respond to their needs, with more than a third (39 per cent) of specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) across the UK currently requiring improvement.

There is also regional variation in the estimated prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people, with an estimated 8 per cent of children aged 5 to 16 years old in the Thames Valley area suffering from a mental health condition, compared with 11 per cent in London, investigators found.

The report has prompted calls for the Government to ring-fence mental health budgets so that money reaches front line services and to set maximum waiting times.

Responding to the findings, Barbara Keeley MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, said: “This report reveals the Tory Government’s abject failure of children and young people in urgent need of mental health treatment.

“It is a scandal that as a result of the Tories’ neglect of child and adolescent mental health over a third of services need to improve access, with some children having to wait as long as eighteen months to be treated.

“Labour will continue to call on the Tory Government to invest in and ring-fence mental health budgets as Labour pledged at the General Election, so that money reaches the underfunded services on the front line."

Former Liberal Democrat Care Minister Norman Lamb echoed her concerns, saying: “If the current Government had shown leadership in driving these changes and ensuring that funding was being spent where it was needed, we might have seen more progress.

“The Prime Minister makes all the right noises about improving mental health care, now she needs to translate these words into action. Children deserve better.”

The report comes as child mental health charities and campaigners warned that young people are not receiving adequate mental health provision.

Recent research by the Children’s Society’s found that 30,000 children were being turned away from mental health services every year and not receiving any support or treatment at all.

It also found that children missed 157,000 mental health appointments last year, with many missed appointments never followed up by health professionals to check that the children concerned were safe and well.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said in response to the CQC report: “Despite increased attention and investment, services remain fragmented and are increasingly overstretched, and too many children are suffering as a result.

“Vulnerable children in desperate need of help are facing agonising waits for treatment, in many cases without anyone checking in on them to make sure their condition isn’t deteriorating, leaving families at crisis point with no-one to step in and help.

“Poor quality children’s mental health services cannot be allowed to continue – there is too much at stake. The Government needs to set maximum waiting times, action needs to be taken to reduce missed appointments and when children do miss appointments they must be safeguarded.”

The NSPCC has seen a rise in calls to Childline from children struggling to access mental health services or facing long waiting. A spokesman said: “This important report sadly reflects what children are telling us at Childline, with one in three counselling sessions last year relating to mental health and a record number of counselling sessions about suicidal thoughts.

"Many of these children tell us that they are struggling to access support, even at crisis point. It’s clear that the system supposed to provide early help for children experiencing mental health problems is broken in many part of the country. Without improvements in how services are funded, planned and delivered, thousands of children will continue to struggle alone."

Sarah Brennan, chief executive from YoungMinds, said: “Every day we hear from parents who have been waiting months for an appointment, and who don’t know where to turn.

“Sometimes their children have started to self-harm, become suicidal or dropped out of school during the wait. This not only has a huge impact on their education, but can also mean that a parent has to give up their job to look after them."

Dr Paul Lelliott, who led the report, said: “There are many people out there working to make sure that children and young people who experience mental health issues are offered caring support. Their dedication is to be celebrated.

“However, we must also address those times when a child or young person feels let down or not listened to and make sure the same level of support is available to each and every one of them.

“The complexity and fragmentation of the system is an obstacle that must be overcome if this new investment is to result in better services to meet the mental health needs of children and young people.

Responding to the findings, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “Our commitment to improving children’s mental healthcare is shown by our additional £1.4 billion investment, more trained staff and more children and young people accessing care.

“But there is more to do which is why we commissioned this review and will publish a Green Paper on Children and Young People’s mental health by the end of the year.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in