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Mental health services failing children with life-threatening conditions, says Children’s Commissioner

Quarter of children referred for specialist mental health treatment in 2015 did not receive a service

Over a quarter of children (28%) who were referred for specialist mental health treatment in 2015 did not receive a service, according to information collected by the Children's Commissioner for England using her unique powers to request data from public bodies. In one trust 75% of referrals were not considered to meet the threshold for treatment.

A significant proportion of children with life-threatening mental health conditions - 14% of the 3,000 about whom information was obtained - were denied specialist support. These included children who had attempted suicide or serious self-harm and those with psychosis and anorexia nervosa.

Of 28 trusts that submitted information on waiting times for mental health treatment, four reported average waits of over 100 days and in one, the average wait for children who made it onto the list for treatment was 200 days.

Although children and young people can experience a variety of difficulties in attending mental health appointments, a third (35%) of trusts that responded to the question about restricting access to services for children who missed appointments, said that they would do so.

The Children's Commissioner said that children and young people are asking for:

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England said:

"Children and young people consistently tell me that they need better mental health support but the information we have received paints a picture of provision that is patchy, difficult to access and unresponsive.

"Behind the stats are countless stories of children and young people in desperate circumstances not getting the vital support they need.

"I've heard from far too many children who have been denied access to support or struck off the list because they missed appointments. I've heard from others whose GPs could not manage their condition and who had to wait months to see a specialist whilst struggling with their conditions."

Jenny Edwards, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said:

"Today we have yet more evidence that we are failing to prioritise our children's mental health. Children presenting with suicidal symptoms and being turned away is a shocking reality that requires action. While we need to improve access to services, this alone will not solve the total problem.

"We must put preventative steps in place. Putting mental health onto the curriculum so students learn about steps to take, teaching children mindfulness techniques, cracking down harder on bullying and introducing whole-school mental health strategies are just some of the steps that would make a massive difference for children.

"We also need to address the sources of pressure, like the ever increasing burden of testing and exams.

"Slow action is costing lives. The Mental Health Foundation is working with others, including our Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition, to call for change now."

The Children's Commissioner's report is here.