Investigators find youngsters are facing ‘agonising waits’ for treatment.
The Government has been accused of “neglecting” children’s mental health after it emerged some youngsters are waiting more than a year to be treated.
A major review by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) of mental health services for young people has found that vulnerable children are facing “agonising waits” for treatment, with one young person who spoke to investigators waiting for 18 months.
During prolonged waits, children and young people are unable to access the support they need, causing their mental health to deteriorate further, with some starting to self-harm, become suicidal or drop out of school during the wait to receive support, the report found.
The findings also showed that even when children do access treatment, the services were not always adequate to respond to their needs, with more than a third (39 per cent) of specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) across the UK currently requiring improvement.
There is also regional variation in the estimated prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people, with an estimated 8 per cent of children aged 5 to 16 years old in the Thames Valley area suffering from a mental health condition, compared with 11 per cent in London, investigators found.
The report has prompted calls for the Government to ring-fence mental health budgets so that money reaches front line services and to set maximum waiting times.
Responding to the findings, Barbara Keeley MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, said: “This report reveals the Tory Government’s abject failure of children and young people in urgent need of mental health treatment.
“It is a scandal that as a result of the Tories’ neglect of child and adolescent mental health over a third of services need to improve access, with some children having to wait as long as eighteen months to be treated.
“Labour will continue to call on the Tory Government to invest in and ring-fence mental health budgets as Labour pledged at the General Election, so that money reaches the underfunded services on the front line.”
Former Liberal Democrat Care Minister Norman Lamb echoed her concerns, saying: “If the current Government had shown leadership in driving these changes and ensuring that funding was being spent where it was needed, we might have seen more progress.
“The Prime Minister makes all the right noises about improving mental health care, now she needs to translate these words into action. Children deserve better.”
The report comes as child mental health charities and campaigners warned that young people are not receiving adequate mental health provision.
Recent research by the Children’s Society’s found that 30,000 children were being turned away from mental health services every year and not receiving any support or treatment at all.
It also found that children missed 157,000 mental health appointments last year, with many missed appointments never followed up by health professionals to check that the children concerned were safe and well.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said in response to the CQC report: “Despite increased attention and investment, services remain fragmented and are increasingly overstretched, and too many children are suffering as a result.