Health

Child mental health faces 'complex and severe' problems

Sad youth Image copyright Thinkstock

Child mental health services in England must be prioritised more to tackle the complex and severe problems they face, a leaked draft taskforce report says.

The review, headed by senior NHS England and Department of Health officials, said addressing the issue must become a "national ambition".

It highlights rising waiting times and the lack of age-appropriate hospital services.

But it noted attempts had started being made to improve care.

The taskforce was set up by ministers. In particular, its draft report praised the push by the government on mental health since 2011, when ministers said they wanted "parity of esteem with physical health services".

Funding

This had led to investment in a range of services for all ages, including increasing access to talking therapies for young people.

Nonetheless, it said more needed to be done to tackle the problems being experienced by children.

These included:

  • Variable access to crisis, out-of-hours and psychiatry services
  • Not enough young people being treated in age-appropriate in-patient settings close to home
  • A lack of clear leadership and accountability arrangements for services
  • Rising waiting times for the dedicated NHS child and adolescent mental health service

To rectify the problems, it said funding still needed addressing.

Responsibility for services is largely shared between the NHS and local government.

Figures released last month showed NHS spending on children's mental health services in England had fallen by more than 6% in real terms since 2010. The cut, equivalent to nearly £50m, was revealed by NHS England in a parliamentary answer.

Meanwhile, an investigation by the charity Young Minds last year found that more than half of councils in England had cut or frozen budgets for child and adolescent mental health between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

Digital technology

The taskforce's draft report also called for a social marketing campaign to kick-start a national conversation about mental health problems among younger people. One person in four has a mental health problem at some point in their lives, with three quarters experiencing problems before the age of 18.

And it said schools and GPs should play a more prominent role in identifying and tackling problems as they develop.

It also suggested digital technology, such as apps, could have a "positive role" to play in the future.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Care Minister Norman Lamb said: "Children and young people face many challenges and I'm determined to make sure they get the right support at the right time.

"That's why I brought together a team of specialists to look at how we can improve care, and we will be publishing its proposal shortly.

"This is a real and vital opportunity to fundamentally modernise the way we organise and commission children and young people's mental health care."

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "Labour has been warning of the deepening crisis in children's mental health for months.

"Now that the government's own advisers have reached the same conclusion, ministers simply have to act and cannot go on ignoring it.

"If mental health is the poor relation of the NHS, then children's mental health has become the poor relation of the poor relation."

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