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Poor provision on mental health is failing young people

Only a third of children with mental health issues get NHS treatment

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 11 January 2019

The NHS is currently failing to help the majority of children and young people with mental health issues, according to a report published today by the parliamentary public accounts committee.

The committee’s Mental health services for children and young people report says that most young people with a mental health condition do not get the treatment they need and the government should speed up the pace of change to increase staff numbers in this area.

It is estimated that one in eight (12.8%) of 5-19 year olds have a mental health disorder and there has also been a marked increase in the number of 5-15 year olds who have an emotional disorder – the figure now stands at 5.8% in comparison to 3.9% in 2004.

The committee’s MPs said that the government had committed to providing “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health services, but it was still unclear what it meant by this in practice.

The government also had no comprehensive, long-term plan for how it would fulfil its commitment to implement the Future in Mind report published in 2015, which set out a cross-sector vision for how to support children and young people’s mental health, they added.

The MPs welcomed the current focus on improving NHS mental health services for children and young people, but said there were still significant gaps in the data to monitor progress.

Work to increase mental health staff numbers and develop the right skills had also progressed more slowly than planned.

Long-standing issues in relation to the recruitment and retention of NHS staff remained unchanged and it was clear that the government’s inability to increase the number of mental health nurses was preventing progress in this area.

The report says that in 2017-18, only three in 10 children and young people with a mental health condition received NHS-funded treatment, and many more faced unacceptably long waits for treatment.

New and better ways of supporting young people’s mental health through prevention and early intervention, particularly in schools, were now being developed, the MPs admitted.

The report recommends that from April of this year to April 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England should provide annual updates on:

  • the number of young people who request or are referred for treatment
  • whose requests/referrals are accepted
  • how long people had to wait for treatment
  • the proportion of young people with a diagnosable condition who receive NHS-funded mental health services
  • waiting times.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said: “Children and young people with mental health conditions are being failed by the NHS. Provision is far below required levels and many people who do get help face long waits for treatment.

“This can be devastating for people’s life chances; their physical health, education and work prospects. The NHS must accelerate efforts to ensure it has the right staff with the right skills in the right places.”

BMA consultants committee deputy chair and NHS child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Gary Wannan said: “This report is very concerning and highlights that significant progress needs to be made to improve child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) as young people are continuing to be failed by the system.

“With mental health care accounting for almost a quarter of overall activity in health and social care, the £2.3bn allocation for mental health as part of the Long-Term Plan is not proportionate to the amount needed and will not facilitate genuine parity between mental and physical health services."

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