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Child mental health funding not reaching CCGs

Decision to not ring-fence funding leaves young people missing out on the care they need

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Clinical commissioning groups are getting less than a third of the expected funding for providing mental health care for children and young people, an independent report revealed this morning. Its authors warned that as funding for children’s mental health is no longer ring-fenced, there is a risk that it will be spent on other priorities – yet specialist mental health services are already having to turn away nearly a quarter of referred young people, and two thirds of 16-34-year-olds had no help after attempting suicide.

The Education Policy Institute’s Independent Commission on Children and Young People’s Mental Health – which includes MPs and mental health specialists as well as a GP (Dr Lise Hertel, clinical lead for mental health, NICE, Newham CCG) – assessed the progress made in transforming services since the Government announced £1.4 billion investment in 2015.

Its report Time to Deliver found that the Government’s decision not to ring-fence the funding for children’s mental health is putting at risk the young people’s mental health transformation process. It said that in the first year, only £143 million of the expected £250 million funding was released – and of that, only £75 million was distributed to CCGs. It added: “While it is unclear how much of this has reached frontline services, mental health providers have indicated that they have not yet seen this increased investment. For 2016-17, £119 million has been allocated to CCGs, but this has not been ring-fenced – with the risk that it will be spent on other priorities.”

The Commission called on the Government to withhold local areas’ annual share of the additional £1.4 billion until they have set out robust plans to improve care, and demonstrate that all the additional funding is being spent on children’s mental health services and not offsetting cuts elsewhere.

The Commission reported a worrying “treatment gap” when it comes to local mental health transformation plans, and called for the retention of children and young people’s mental health as a national priority over the next five years and after 2020. It also found that both workforce problems, and lack of engagement with schools, are hindering progress. It reported that:

  • Two thirds (66.9%) of young people aged 16-34 who had attempted suicide had not subsequently received medical or psychological help.
  • Specialist mental health services are turning away nearly a quarter (23%) of young people referred to them for treatment, on average.
  • 83% of trusts that responded had experienced recruitment difficulties, and a similar proportion had had to advertise multiple times to fill roles; mental health nurse posts were hardest to fill, followed by consultant psychiatrists.

The Commission called on the Government to adopt, as a key priority, a new Prime Minister’s Challenge on Children’s Mental Health that sets out an ambitious reform programme covering research and prevention, early intervention, and improving access to quality services. This would include: research and prevention, including a dedicated research institute, an online parenting guide, and a strategy to empower young people to be safe online; early intervention, including high-quality and accessible early-intervention services in every area, a national school-based programme on mental health and wellbeing, with statutory time for mental health in lessons; and improved access, with no-one waiting longer than eight weeks for routine treatment, and no-one being forced on their 18th birthday to leave their support services and move on adult services.

The NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network said it supports the challenge to Government, to fulfil its funding promises. Chair Bev Humphrey commented: “We support the Commission’s challenge to the Prime Minister, which follows ongoing concern about the Government’s failure to come close to fulfilling its existing promises on mental health funding.

“This situation means underfunded NHS and social services are struggling to help the growing number of children experiencing serious mental health problems.

“With many services almost at breaking point the Commission is right - it really is time to deliver.”

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