A survey of psychiatrists has suggested that NHS services are failing the soaring numbers of children who have had a breakdown, self-harmed or attempted to commit suicide.
72% of consultant psychiatrists who specialise in treating children and adolescents say that NHS care for under-18s experiencing a crisis in their mental health is either inadequate (58%) or very inadequate (14%).
And only 9% of those who responded concluded that these services are currently good.
253 of the UK’s 750 consultant psychiatrists working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) took part in the survey.
And the the results paint a worrying picture of how NHS services are falling behind the requirements of children and young people with serious psychological and psychiatric conditions.
Peter Hindley, the chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry, which undertook the research, suggested that the findings of the survey should be of serious concern.
“These are worrying findings. They are from very experienced clinicians who look after the most troubled young people in the country, children and young people who are having mental health crises and who are in a desperate way. They tell us that NHS care for children and young people in mental health crisis is very patchy. These young people feel very upset, very distressed, they may have self-harmed, they have very negative self-thoughts, possibly including suicidal intent, and they feel hopeless and that they can’t go on. Some may recently have tried to take their own lives”.
It is clear from recent evidence that pressure on mental health services for children in the NHS system is increasing significantly, with figures from NHS Digital concluding that the number of under-18s attending A&E in England due to a mental health crisis has risen by more than half in the past five years.
Bed-blocking is also an obvious problem in this area, with services for children having been significantly hampered by lack of inpatient beds.
Luciana Berger MP, a member of the Commons health select committee and ex-shadow minister for mental health, indicated her belief that the figures are indicative of a huge malaise in this aspect of the healthcare system.
“This feedback from clinicians working at the frontline exposes the depths of the crisis facing child and adolescent mental health services in England. Where else in the NHS do 72% of our doctors tell us that the services being provided are inadequate or very inadequate? This worsening situation is totally unacceptable and compromises the recovery and future life chances of some of the most vulnerable young people in our country”.
Spending on early intervention schemes among councils fell from £3.2bn a year in 2010-11 to just £1.4bn in 2014-15, while even Jeremy Hunt has acknowledged that mental health services for children are the greatest area of weakness in the NHS.