Government warned against underfunding children’s mental health services

Steve Barclay has been alerted after NHS failures to provide mental health care contributed to the death of a 12-year-old girl who waited nine months for an assessment.

Nadia Persaud, area coroner for East London, wrote a Prevention of Future Deaths report to health secretary Steve Barcley raising concerns about underfunding of services following the conclusion of the inquest into the suicide of Allison Aules.

woman sitting on floor near window

Aules, from Redbridge in north east London, was referred to mental health services in May 2021 with evidence of self-harm, low mood and anxiety. After her case was wrongly judged to be routine, a multi-disciplinary team decided she should have a face-to-face assessment but judged her to be low-risk – meaning she was not assessed for nine months, and even then not face-to-face and with no full assessment of her mental state.

She was subsequently discharged from the mental health team with no multi-disciplinary review, and while she received counselling at school, this concluded at the end of term on 15th July 2022. Three days later she was found in her room having taken her own life.

Persaud’s letter to Barclay raised numerous matters of concern regarding the state of NHS children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

‘The Inquest identified multiple failings in the care provided to Allison,’ Persaud wrote. ‘The failings occurred within a children and adolescent mental health service which was significantly under resourced.

‘The Inquest heard evidence that the under resourcing of CAMHS services is not confined to this local Trust but is a matter of National concern.

‘The under resourcing of CAMHS services contributed to delays in Allison being assessed by the mental health team. The delay between triage to assessment was 9 months. The Inquest heard evidence that this delay is not unusual within CAMHS teams across the country.’

Persaud highlighted difficulties in recruiting sufficiently qualified psychiatrists to CAMHS teams, and underfunding of CAMHS teams within the broader funding of mental health services.

‘The Inquest heard that the number of children presenting to CAMHS teams is increasing significantly,’ she added. ‘The number of referrals of children to the local CAMHS team in the early 2010s was between 10 – 12 per week.  The current number of referrals is in the region of 140 patients per week.

‘There is a concern that ongoing under resourcing of CAMHS services (whilst demand continues to increase), will result in future similar deaths.’

As well as Barclay, Persaud’s letter was sent to the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Image: Anthony Tran

More on this topic:

Scottish government told to do better over ‘disappointing’ child mental health services


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