Children waiting six months to even be assessed for a mental health condition

Provision is uneven across the country after referral

Jon Stone
Wednesday 18 November 2015 12:01
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Some services see children within a week
Some services see children within a week

Children in some parts of the country are having to wait for six months before they are even assessed for a mental health condition, according to new research.

Figures collated by the children’s charity NSPCC found the average waiting time between being a referral by a doctor to a mental health specialist and actually being assessed was as long as 26 weeks.

The study looked at the speed of assessment in 35 NHS mental health trusts and found uneven provision, with some areas assessing children as quickly as a week but vastly worst performance in others.

The average wait across all areas surveyed was two months, according to the charity.

The long waiting periods for help coincide with the findings of a new report that found worryingly high death rates among people with mental health problems in many areas of the country.

That review by the Open Public Services Network, funded by the Cabinet Office, found that the physical health needs of people with mental health problems were not being met.

As a result people with such conditions are dying younger than the general population, the study said – with a death rate of 2.4 times higher than average.

26 weeks

The average wait in some areas of the country for a children's mental health assessment

The Government says mental health is a priority, and mental health Alistair Burt has stressed the importance of tackling issues raised by the OPSN report.

In October the Government launched a campaign aimed at ending mental health stigma among young people.

This scheme involved a new website, a survey of young people’s health, and a fund to encourage online tools that might be useful to people with concerns about their mental health.

However, there have also been sharp cuts to mental health services, with £35 million cut last year despite other commitments.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said the waiting periods for care could have implications for children who had been subject to abuse.

“We know that large numbers of children, coping with the complex emotional and psychological fallout of abuse, seek help through these services,” he said.

“Sadly, we also know that in some areas, even after such a long wait, many will not receive the specialist therapeutic help they desperately need.

“Recorded abuse against children is at record levels but doesn’t come near reflecting the overall scale of this crime. As more and more children bravely speak out about the sickening things that have been done to them it is essential that enough tailored services are there to support them.”

An earlier investigation by the same charity found that one in five children referred to mental health services were turned away because of a lack of resources.

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns for the youth mental health charity YoungMinds, said early intervention was important to treating mental health problems and that problems with services for young people were particularly worrying.

“This situation needs to change because prevention and early intervention are vital in reducing the suffering young people experience,” she said.

“The Government have committed 1.25 billion over five years to improve mental health services and we hope that provision improves on the ground as a result of this as soon as possible.”

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