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Children face mental health waiting times twice as long as Government target, report reveals


By Léa Legraien
11 October 2018

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Mental health services fail to provide treatment to children within national waiting time standards, a policy think tank has found.

In a report published on Sunday, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) revealed that children and young people with a mental health issue wait twice as long as the Government’s four-week waiting time target.

Last year, the Government announced it will pilot a four-week waiting time from 2018 for specialist mental health care for children and young people in England to ‘mitigate the risk of unintended consequence’.

Variation across country

Based on findings obtained through a freedom of information request sent to public child and adolescent mental health services providers and local authorities, the EPI found that waiting times vary across the country from one day to 188.

The report shows that on average, the longest wait for specialist treatment (64 days) was found in London, while the shortest (58 days) was recorded in the South of England.

The report also estimated that at least 55,800 children could not access mental health treatment in 2017/18, mostly due to their mental conditions deemed ‘not serious enough’ to meet the service eligibility criteria, a 26% increase in the past five years.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told Healthcare Leader that the Government is ‘on track to ensure that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental health care by 2020/21’.

They said: ‘We’re completely committed to achieving parity between physical and mental health as part of our long-term plan for the NHS, backed by an additional £20.5bn of funding per year by 2023/24.’

‘Distressing’ findings 

National Education Union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said the finding are ‘distressing’.

He said: ‘Schools witness on a daily basis the costs of the Government’s decimation of mental health services and the misery caused to families and children and young people in need of professional mental health support.

‘For many parents the only route open to them is to pay for help privately. This of course is an option open for only a minority of families, leaving too many children without the early support so crucial in addressing mental health.’

In 2015, the Government pledged to invest an extra £1.4bn until 2020 in local mental health services for children and young people.

But Government’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office argued that the funding is insufficient to meet the ‘significant unmet need’ for those services.

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