Children with serious mental health problems are being forced to wait up to five months to get help as services struggle to cope with rising demand, a new report by The Children's Society has revealed.
The report, Access Denied - A Teenager's Pathway through the Mental Health System, is based on Freedom of Information responses from mental health trusts across England. It found that children and young people are made to wait, on average, 66 days for an initial assessment by specialist mental health services.
However, in some areas waits for conditions including severe depression and anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders and psychosis, stretch to 140 days - nearly five months. The charity says by contrast there are six-week targets in place for many physical health conditions.
The responses from trusts showed that although waits for children aged 10 to 17 were improving in some areas, and had improved slightly overall in the past year, almost a third of providers reported an increase in waiting times for Tier 3 CAMHS between 2013/14 and 2014/15.
The charity believes delays may be associated with increases in young people seeking help - referral rates to specialist mental health services for children and young people rose by more than 40 per cent between 2003 and 2010, according to research by Durham University. In the last year around 200,000 children have been referred for specialist support.
The report also reveals that one third of children and teenagers referred to specialist services are failing to access specialist help altogether - 16 per cent are being passed on to a lower level service while 15 per cent (equivalent to 30,000 young people) are being turned away without getting any other support. The charity says this means many young people may never have their needs addressed and are likely to reach crisis point.
A spokesperson for the ACP said it supported the findings of the Taskforce report, Future in Mind, which highlighted the need for the right treatment being available at the right time.
"Waiting for services can turn a difficulty into a crisis, which is much harder (and more costly) to treat. Investing in children and young people through equipping services with enough well trained and experienced staff is vital if we are going to meet the rising demand on child mental health services."
The Children's Society is calling for new standards on access and waiting times for all mental health conditions and for the Department of Health to set out clearly, in national statutory guidance, the rights of young people to receive different levels of support for various conditions, as well as stating which cases should be fast-tracked, to tackle the postcode lottery of treatment.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children's Society, said: "Too many young people are struggling to access the support they need to overcome mental health problems. Children who are referred to specialist services for help with serious mental health conditions often need urgent support to prevent a problem becoming a crisis. What they are getting at the moment, too often, is rejection, confusion and delay."