Young mental health service in Wales in crisis, say experts

Dr Elspeth Webb
Image caption Dr Webb said services needed more resources

The service which treats children and young people with mental illness in Wales is in a state of crisis, according to child health experts.

A BBC Wales investigation has found that young people are often left struggling to cope without the appropriate support.

One expert said there are only half the required staff in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

The Welsh government strongly rejected the claim the service was in crisis.

However, it acknowledged that waiting lists were an issue and that it had flagged this for attention as part of its CAMHS action plan.

'Overwhelmed service'

Dr Elspeth Webb, a reader in child health at Cardiff University, said there were many good staff in CAMHS but services across Wales were operating at between 20% and 40% of the recommended staff levels.

She said: "You can imagine it's very difficult if you are working in such an overwhelmed service to maintain quality of care.

"The big problem with CAMHS at the moment is that lots and lots of children who really need them can't access them."

Dr Webb said if money could be spent now it would stop greater problems in future.

Her view is backed by Dr Mair Edwards, a clinical psychologist who treats children privately in north Wales.

She said that in the past year she has had a steady stream of parents contacting her, concerned their children were spending too long on waiting lists while their conditions worsened.

In December, a report by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the Wales Audit Office found that safety concerns raised about the services in 2009 had not been addressed properly.

It said some children and young people were being inappropriately admitted to adult mental health wards. Health professionals were also failing to share information and act on their safeguarding duties.

The report also raised concerns about patients being discharged from treatment.

The Welsh government was the first in the UK to have a national CAMHS strategy in 2001, and has since introduced several action plans, frameworks and a law.

However, Bill Walden-Jones, chief executive of the charity Hafal, which represents people with serious mental illnesses across Wales, said it was time to focus on delivery of services.

"In Wales, there's a situation where the government's policy and legislative framework is quite good, quite advanced, they actually listen to patients and their families about what should be delivered," he said.

"But on the other hand, delivery falls a long way short... it's very patchy across Wales."

In a statement the Welsh government said the health minister announced an extra £250,000 a year for CAMHS last October,

"The minister has also been clear that savings made in reducing out-of-area placements should be reinvested into specialist mental health services for children and teenagers," it said.

"The Mental Health (Wales) Measure, which came into force in 2012, allows many more patients to be seen in primary care, meaning CAMHS services can concentrate on treating the most complex cases. £3.5m was invested in this new service and more than 30,000 people have been assessed by December 2013."

The national assembly's children and young people committee is currently investigating mental health services and is expected to report back within months.

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