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Trust leaders report ‘significant’ increase in waiting times for young people’s mental health services


By James Hacker
25 May 2021

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The majority (84%) of trust leaders have said that waiting times for children and young people’s mental health services have worsened over the last six months, according to a survey.

The NHS Providers survey, published today (25 May), found that a quarter (25%) said waiting times to access treatment had increased ‘significantly’, with a further 59% of leaders observing a moderate increase.

Just 9% of respondents found waiting times remained the same, the survey found.

Meanwhile, 85% of trust leaders said they could not meet demand for young people’s eating disorder services, and two-thirds (66%) said they are unable to meet demand for community child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

The survey received responses from 35 trust leaders, accounting for 58% of the of the children and young people’s mental health services sector.

This comes after mental health charity Mind found that almost a quarter (23%) of people said their mental health worsened as a result of accessing NHS support over the phone or online during the pandemic.

Increasingly complex cases

The survey also revealed that the increased complexity of caseloads caused by the pandemic was seen as a major reason why services are unable to meet demand.

Trust leaders also identified additional demand due to the pandemic overall, lack of suitable social care provision, and workforce shortages as key factors.

More than nine in 10 (91%) respondents agreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that presentations to these services are ‘more acute and complex’ than in the past, NHS Providers said.

Trust leaders also expressed concern over the wellbeing of their own staff, with 83% stating they were worried about this, and 37% were ‘extremely concerned’, the survey found.

It also found that only 10% of the respondents were confident that their trust had the ‘right numbers, quality and mix of staff (clinical and non-clinical)’ in place to deliver high quality mental health care.

Anticipated demand

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said that the pandemic has highlighted rising demand for mental health services and chronic underinvestment in beds, workforce and capital.

She said: ‘These findings provide further powerful evidence that in addressing the NHS’ backlog of care and the impact of Covid-19, mental health services – including those for children and young people – must be an absolute priority.’

She added that it is vital that these trusts are supported to ‘meet the demand they anticipate in the coming months’.

‘They need adequate capital funding to ensure a safe therapeutic environment, workforce investment so we have enough staff with the right skills to treat children and young people, a commitment to expand services in the community to avoid inpatient admissions where possible, and a quick expansion in the bed base where it’s needed to bring care closer to home,’ she said.

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