Alarm raised on children’s mental health

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Commissioning and provision of mental health services for children and adolescents in England was a cause for serious concern, MPs have said in a highly critical report.

Lack of funding, failures in early intervention, poor access to services, out of date information, growing waiting times for help, and a lack of scrutiny over services were all highlighted as serious problems by MPs on the parliamentary health select committee.

The Health Committee published a report on 5 November after its inquiry into children’s and adolescents’ mental health services, saying that overall there were “serious and deeply ingrained problems” in this area.1

MPs received 237 written submissions to their inquiry, the highest number it had received for any inquiry it has held during this parliament, from many organisations, clinicians, and individual service users and their parents.

The report said, “The prevailing picture was of CAMHS [children’s and adolescents’ mental health services] commissioners and providers struggling with increasing demand and reducing resources.” However, it did acknowledge that MPs also heard evidence of good and innovative practice within the services.

They found major problems over access to inpatient mental health services, with the safety of some children and teenagers being compromised while they waited for a bed to become available. Often when beds were found they could be in distant parts of the country, which made it difficult for contact to be maintained with family and friends.

Early intervention services, which provide support to young people before mental health problems become entrenched and more severe, were being cut in many areas or faced uncertain or short term funding, said the MPs.

The committee welcomed the announcement in July of a Department of Health and NHS England taskforce to look at how to achieve more rational use of available resources in this area so that it could audit commissioning of early intervention services in local authorities.2

Although demand for mental health services for children and adolescents seemed to be rising, said the MPs, many clinical commissioning groups said that they had frozen or cut their budgets. “CCGs have the power to determine their own local priorities, but we are concerned that insufficient priority is being given to childre...