Mental health services turn away 23% of under-18s referred to them

New research finds some services deny support to those with anorexia unless their BMI is below a certain threshold

Mental health services turn away nearly a quarter of the children and young people who come to them for help, new research has revealed.

A report from the liberal thinktank CentreForum shows that mental healthcare providers refuse to treat an average of 23% of the under-18s referred to them by concerned parents, GPs, teachers and others.

The analysis also reveals that the longest waiting times endured by users of child and adolescent mental health services have doubled in the last two years, with waiting times of up to two and a half years reported.

Among the reasons reported for turning under-18s away included services feeling they lacked the capacity to deal with the problem, the child or young person not having being unwell for a long enough period of time or their condition not yet being serious enough.

Researchers found some services denied support to children and young people with anorexia if their body mass index (BMI) was not under a certain threshold. Other services referred people to more generic support unless they had “enduring suicidal ideation”, meaning they had to have expressed a desire to kill themselves on more than one occasion to access more specialist services.

The shadow mental health minster, Luciana Berger, described the findings as “utterly outrageous”. “The Tories talk about putting prevention first, but the reality is young people with poor mental health are only getting help when it is too late,” she said.

CentreForum’s analysis of regional expenditure on mental health also uncovered a counterintuitive north-south divide, with northern regions spending more on care for under-18s while services in the south experience serious capacity problems.

The research found that since April 2015 there were 26 days when no beds were available in the south-east and 52 days when no beds were available in the south-west.

The former mental health minister Norman Lamb, who chairs CentreForum’s commission on child and adolescent mental health, said the findings went against what was known about the importance of early intervention. “Intervening early can prevent a condition reaching crisis point,” he said.

“This is a scandal which has existed for too long. It is unacceptable. If we are to finally achieve equality between physical and mental health, as the government has argued for, these shortcomings must be addressed urgently.”

There is only patchy data available on the rates of mental ill-health among children and young people, but there are some indications that there has been a rise in mental health problems among under-18s over the last five years.

One in 10 young people aged between five and 16 have a mental health problem, the equivalent of three in every school classroom or 720,000 children and young people across England.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between five and 19, causing 14% of deaths. It is also the second most common cause for girls after traffic accidents, accounting for 9%..

More than £704m was spent on children and adolescent mental health services in 2012-13, the equivalent of about 6% of the total mental health budget or around 0.7% of the overall NHS budget.

Berger said David Cameron needed to start taking responsibility for the situation with children’s mental health services.

“On this government’s watch, services have been cut, the number of specialist doctors and nurses has fallen and more children have been placed on adult wards or forced to travel hundreds of miles just to get a bed,” she said.

“We have a system in crisis which is only focused on crisis. This is bad for the NHS and it is bad for those young people in need of help.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said the government was delivering on its commitments on young people’s mental health. “The full £1.4bn will be made available as promised over the next five years, funding the biggest transformation the sector has ever seen, with every local area in the country revolutionising their services,” they said.

“This includes £28mto continue the rollout of talking therapies for children, to expand capacity and help more children get the help they need before they get to a crisis point.”


Frances Perraudin

The GuardianTramp

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