Decent mental health service for children ‘still a decade away’Ruth Mabhiza
Decent mental health service for children ‘still a decade away’
The NHS is spending 60% less on mental health support for children than adults, according to a new report by the children’s commissoner for England.
Anne Longfield today warned that “chasm” existed between what young people needed and what was being provided.
Her report – The state of children’s mental health services – found children were only receiving “a fraction” of the help available to adults.
It said that the NHS had spent £225 on mental health for every adult in 2018/19 compared to only £92 for every child during the same period.
Overall, children only received 10% of total mental health funding.
In addition, the commissioner found that treatment varied “hugely” across the country.
It said some in some clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), more than half of children who were referred for treatment did not receive it.
However, she did higlight some areas of good practice. There were four CCGs where more than 90% of children referred entered treatment.
Just over 3% of children in England were referred to services last year – representing only around one in four children with a diagnosable mental health condition, noted the report.
However, those behind the 32-page document also recognised a series of improvements across services.
There was an additional £50m in real terms spent on children’s mental health and an extra 53,000 children received treatment in 2018/19 compared with the previous year.
The document also reported that, on average, children were waiting just under eight weeks (53 days) to enter mental health treatment – down from 57 days a year ago.
Children’s eating disorder services are the currently the only children’s mental health service with a waiting time target.
As a result, the report said waiting times for these were “much shorter” and 80% of children had accessed eating disorder services within four weeks.
The number of children accessing services eating disorder services had also increased by almost 50% since 2016/17, found the commissioner.
Ms Longfield said: “There has been welcome progress on children’s mental health services over the last couple of years, and more progress is promised over the next few years.
“Nevertheless, there is still a chasm between what children need and what is being provided.”
She said that more children were “seeking help” for their mental health and so the government needed to “make sure that help is available”.
“We are still a decade away from a decent mental health service for all children,” added Ms Longfield.
She noted that it was unclear whether national and local government and the NHS was “facing up to the scale of the problems in children’s mental health services”.
“The government doesn’t have a plan for a comprehensive service in every area and there is still no commitment to a counsellor in every school, which would make a huge difference,” she added.
“After years of government announcements on children’s mental health, children’s mental health remains the poor relation of NHS spending, receiving a fraction of the money invested in adults.”
The commissioner added that children were receiving a “postcode lottery of care” and that “most areas are still spending less than 1% of their budget” on these services.
She urged the government to use its next spending review to commit to “providing help for 100% of children”.
“If not, thousands of children with mental health problems will continue to suffer and become adults without getting the help they need,” said Ms Longfield.
In response to the findings, mental health minister and former nurse, Nadine Dorries, said: “As the children’s commissioner highlights, major improvements to children and young people’s mental health care are already well underway, driving forward progress so every child can access the high-quality care they need and deserve.
“Spending on children’s mental health is growing faster than spending overall in the NHS, backed by an extra £2.3bn investment in mental health per year.
“We’re rolling out dedicated mental health support teams in schools and trialing four-week waiting times in the NHS, so they have quicker access to an increased range of support and treatment when they need it.”
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing called for “substantial investment” in school nursing and children’s and young people’s mental health nurses.
Fiona Smith, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “It cannot be right that in some parts of England children are expected to suffer in silence because the services they rely on aren’t prioritised and resourced properly.”
Whilst she called for more money to be put into children’s mental health, Ms Smith said CCGs also needed to “resist the urge to shift the burden of providing this care to education providers and social services”.
She noted that children’s mental health was a “health problem first and foremost and planners need to prioritise the mental wellbeing of future generations”.
“But crucially, there needs to be substantial investment in school nursing and children’s and young people’s mental health nurses, who are trained to spot signs of mental crises developing and can provide support to children and young people at a much earlier stage,” she added.
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