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GPs express concerns about child psychiatry services

And many say they need more training to help young people with mental health problems

Mark Gould

Thursday, 07 November 2019

Over three-quarters of GPs say that they did not usually feel confident a young person they referred to psychiatric teams would receive treatment for their illness, according to a new survey.

The children’s charity Young Minds questioned over 1,000 GPs in England on their views on access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). It found:

  • 90% had seen a rise in the number of young people seeking support for their mental health in the last three years. 4% disagreed.
  • Only 8% felt that there was good community support for children and young people with mental health problems in their area.
  • Nearly half (47%) said that they sometimes acted above their level of competency when supporting young people with mental health problems. 28% disagreed.
  • Only 20% felt that they had received sufficient training in mental health to respond to young people’s mental health problems. 59% disagreed.
  • Only 10% said that they usually felt confident that a referral to CAMHS would result in treatment. More than three-quarters (76%) disagreed.

One GP told the survey: “Mental health is a specialist area, often beyond the scope of a GP, and the resulting rising demand for mental health services is often not being met. In my area, CAMHS is very good for those with severe needs, but they have much less provision for low-intensity services.”

NHS figures show average waiting times to access CAMHS in England have fallen slightly, from 57 days in 2017-18 to 53 days last year. However, that does not include under-18s who were referred but still waiting at the end of the year to hear from the NHS as to when they would be seen.

The number of young people referred to CAMHS rose by 18% from 343,386 in 2017-18 to 405,479 in 2018-19. It is believed the increase is linked to improved data collection and young people’s greater willingness to seek help for their problems, as well as a rising prevalence of mental ill-health.

Young Minds is today handing in a petition of 70,000 signatures to all leading political parties, as part of its Act Early campaign, calling on the next government to implement a cross-government strategy for young people’s mental health. The petition demands:

  • Action to address the factors that make young people’s mental health worse
  • Support young people and families to better understand and manage their mental health
  • Provide early intervention in every community
  • Reform and modernise mental health services

Emma Thomas, chief executive of Young Minds, said: “As these worrying results show, GPs are on the frontline when it comes to mental health. But too often they don’t believe that there is good enough early support in their community.

“That leaves them grappling with the difficult choice of trying to help young people themselves, or referring them to mental health services, even when those services are overstretched.

“This means many young people either receive support from GPs who have the best of intentions but may not feel equipped to provide the right help, or face long waiting times for specialist services, which may then turn them away because of high thresholds for treatment.”

NHS England did not comment, citing the rules governing civil servants in pre-general election periods.

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