More than a quarter (26%) of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) were rejected in 2018-2019, a report by think tank, Education Policy Institute (EPI), has suggested.
The report, Access to child and adolescent mental health services in 2019, said that approximately 133,000 children and young people were turned away, including those who have self-harmed, experienced abuse, or have eating disorders. With the most common reasons for rejection including children’s conditions not being suitable for treatment, or not meeting eligibility criteria.
The report found that young people waited an average of two months for treatment last year, an 11-day decrease since 2011 but double the government’s four-week target, and warned of ‘patchy’ provision for children and young people and a system ‘under great strain’.
However, NHS bosses said the data, which EPI said was collected via FOI requests, is a ‘flawed and irresponsible misrepresentation of its own and NHS data’.
Study authors Whitney Crenna-Jennings and Jo Hutchinson said: ‘Mental health provision for vulnerable groups of children whose needs are likely to fall under the remit of different services is patchy across the country.
‘The difficulties we encountered in tracking down information on provision for these groups suggests a lack of local accountability across local health and care systems for their health and well-being.
‘A robust system for reporting data on access to CAMHS, including a clear definition of children who are eligible for treatment, is urgently required. Failure to introduce stronger accountability measures may hinder the government’s plans to improve services.
‘All evidence suggests that the government must broaden its focus to include pre-emptively reducing demand within a system under pressure.
‘We must ensure that all children are born into and grow up in environments conducive to good emotional and physical health, and effectively and holistically address difficulties as soon as they emerge.’
A spokesman for NHS England said the report used misleading measurements, arguing that it was wrong to assume that young people not given treatment by NHS mental health services were ‘left to fend for themselves’, rather than being directed to get support elsewhere.
‘The NHS is actually ahead of its target on ensuring as many children as possible receive mental health care – seeing an extra 53,000 children, teenagers and young adults last year, a 14% increase on the year before and 22% more staff in services than five years ago, against a backdrop of rising referrals.
‘It is a shame that the authors failed to check basic facts and policy commitments in this flawed analysis, including accurately reflecting how modern services for families operate in partnership with other agencies, and it is not the first time we have had to point out why the assumption that every referral should get NHS treatment when more appropriate support might be provided elsewhere – for example from schools and local authorities – is wrong.’
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