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Child mental health service unfit and in crisis

More funding for CAMHS essential, says committee

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 05 November 2014

There are serious and deeply ingrained problems with children’s and adolescents’ mental health services, the Health Select Committee has announced.

In a report, published today, the committee highlights the fact that there are major problems with access in inpatient mental health services, with children and young people’s safety being compromised while they wait for a bed to become available. Often when beds are found they may be in distant parts of the country, making contact with family and friends difficult, and leading to longer stays. 

In addition, while early intervention services are described as key in providing support and helping to reduce the need for higher tier services including admission, the report notes that in many areas these services are being cut or suffering from insecure or short-term funding. 

While demand for mental health services for children and adolescents appears to be rising, many CCGs report having frozen or cut their budgets, notes the report, and are giving insufficient priority to young people’s mental health.

The Committee said it was particularly concerned about ‘the wholly unacceptable practice’ of taking children and young people detained under s136 of the Mental Health Act to police cells.

The report listed a raft of other concerns, including worries about the quality of education available to inpatients.

Meanwhile, in the community CAMHS service providers have reported increased waiting times and increased referral thresholds.

The Committee calls for NHS England and the Department of Health to monitor and increase spending levels on CAMHS and a clear national policy directive for CAMHS, underpinned by adequate funding. 

Other problems highlighted in today’s report include variable care between inpatient and outpatient care, with a recommendation that NHS England and the Department of Health act to ensure all areas have clear mechanisms to improve commissioning arrangements. 

Responding to the report, Dr Hilary Cass, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “For too long policy makers have failed to tackle the crisis in child and adolescent mental health – so much so that it is now becoming a hidden epidemic.

“There is a clear message to the next Government: get to grips with the CAMHS crisis or put the mental health of thousands of children, young people and adults at risk.”

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb says he has launched a taskforce to improve services. 

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