‘No long-term plan’ for young people’s mental health, MPs say

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Only three in 10 children and young people with a mental health condition got the NHS treatment they needed in 2017/18. Many more faced “unacceptably long waits for treatment”.

The government has committed to “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health, but a damning report from MPs concludes that what this means in practice is “still unclear”.

An investigation by MPs on the House of Commons’ Committee of Public Accounts has found that work to train up sufficient numbers of mental health staff has progress “more slowly than planned”.

The report says that the government has “no comprehensive, long-term plan” for the implementation of its Future in Mind programme, which set out a cross-sector vision for how to support children and young people’s mental health.

Recent NHS statistics show that one in eight (12.8 per cent) five to 19-year-olds have a mental health disorder and there has been an increase in the number of five to 15-year-olds who suffer from an emotional disorder.

However, the report says that while the NHS’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health aims to increase the proportion of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition who access NHS-funded treatment from an estimated baseline of 25 per cent to 35 per cent by 2020/21, this would still leave two-thirds of young people in need without NHS treatment.

Similarly, the government’s mental health Green Paper in December 2017 set out plans to introduce mental health support teams in schools, but this will only cover up to a quarter of the country by 2022/23.

The report states: “The NHS estimates that just 30.5 per cent of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition accessed NHS-funded treatment in 2017/18. We heard numerous examples of families unable to access the treatment they need or having to wait too long for treatment.

“Preventing and intervening early in mental health conditions is thought to reduce the need for more specialist services and reduce future costs. Yet children and young people are being turned away from NHS services because their condition is not considered severe enough to warrant access to overstretched services.

“There is a clear risk that young people reach crisis point if they do not get help but the NHS has limited sight on what happens to children and young people turned away from NHS services.”

Committee chair, Meg Hillier MP, said: “Children and young people with mental health conditions are being failed by the NHS. Provision is far below required levels and many people who do get help face long waits for treatment.

“The NHS must accelerate efforts to ensure it has the right staff with the right skills in the right places. But there is a broader role for government in better supporting children and young people.

“Effective action on prevention and early intervention can help young people more quickly, as well as relieve pressures on health services.”

Commenting on the report, Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, welcomed its recognition of the importance of early intervention and prevention services. She continued: “Councils are facing a country-wide children’s care cash crisis and are being forced to cut many of the early intervention services which help children avoid mental health issues in later life.

“Children’s services face a funding gap of £3.1 billion by 2025 while public health services, which have seen cuts of £600 million, also help children get the best start in life. It is vital the government addresses this in the forthcoming Spending Review.”

Mental health services for children and young people, Committee of Public Accounts, January 2019: http://bit.ly/2RKPaAV


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