GPs say that NHS child mental health services are failing the next generation

According to GPs, NHS child mental health services are failing the next generation with six in 10 children and young people across England not getting the treatment they need for problems such as anxiety and depression.

According to a leaked report, up to four in five children with mental health problems are being denied access to treatment they urgently need in some parts of England, NHS figures show. The figures also show that overall, six in 10 children and young people across England do not receive treatment for problems such as anxiety and depression, despite the increased risk to them if their condition worsens. 

The new data has renewed fears that vulnerable under-18s are suffering the effects of increasing rationing of psychological help in the NHS, despite high-profile government pledges to improve the service for children. Family doctors and mental health campaigners voiced concern at the figures, which were obtained by the GP website Pulse. Pulse’s figures, obtained under freedom of information legislation from 15 mental health trusts, showed that 61% of children and young people referred for help from CAMHS in 2015 received no treatment. A third were not even assessed for it. Only 20% of under-18s referred to Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation trust ended up undergoing treatment. At Leeds and York Partnership NHS foundation trust it had fallen from 42% to 26% over the same period.

Sarah Brennan, the chief executive of the charity Young Minds, said: “It’s unacceptable that so many vulnerable children aren’t getting the support they need. Without treatment, children are more likely to self-harm or become suicidal, to be violent and aggressive towards those around them, or to drop out of school, which can ruin their prospects for the future. Delays can also have a disastrous effect on families, with parents forced to leave their jobs to look after their children.”

Some children and young people are being referred on to a school counsellor or charity-run mental health service rather than to the NHS, Pulse said. But such organisations are often not the best ones to use, said Dr Faraz Mughal, the Royal College of GPs’ clinical fellow for children’s mental health.

“Recently all referrals seem to get bounced,” said Dr Karen Cox, a GP in Bristol. “They’ve included children who self-harm, a child who was physically abusing his mother and a child with severe night-terrors after the loss of his father. All three of them were advised to contact local charitable organisations."

The government has allocated an extra £250m a year for the next five years to boost CAMHS provision, but mental health professionals say a lot of the money is not reaching the frontline to enable them to expand capacity. Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, told MPs on the Commons public accounts committee last month that CAMHS was the “most creaking” part of the NHS mental health system. The Department of Health said: “No child who needs help should be refused it. That is why we have introduced the first ever mental health access and waiting time standards and are putting in a record £1.4bn to transform support for young people.”

An ACP member and CAMHS practitioner agrees that services are stretched. "We are struggling to see people and meet waiting time targets, but when we put in extra resources in to do this, we then find that we don't have the specialists available to deliver the ongoing treatment. Focusing on waiting times alone is not the best solution. As psychoanalytic child psychotherapists, we recognise the importance of key relationships and we work specifically with the underlying issues. We don't just address the immediate presenting problem. However, this takes time and we are being urged to move children and young people through assessment and treatment too quickly." 

Read the Guardian news report here.