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Only three in ten children with mental health problems receive NHS-funded treatment

Government must accelerate prevention and early intervention efforts: Public Accounts Committee

In 2017–18 only three in ten children and young people with a mental health condition received NHS-funded treatment. Many more faced unacceptably long waits for treatment. Whilst the government has committed to providing 'parity of esteem' between mental and physical health services, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has found in a new report that it is unclear what the commitment means in practice.

The Committee also concludes that the government has no comprehensive, long-term plan for how it will fulfil its commitment to implement Future in Mind, which set out a cross-sector vision for how to support children and young people's mental health.

In the Committee's view, there is now a welcome focus on improving NHS mental health services for children and young people, but there are still significant gaps in the data to monitor progress. Recently published figures have underlined the scale of the task faced: one in eight (12.8 per cent) five to nineteen-year-olds have a mental health disorder. There has also been a marked increase in the number of five to fifteen-year-olds who suffer from an emotional disorder: the figure now stands at 5.8 per cent in comparison to 3.9 per cent in 2004.

Work to increase mental health staff numbers and develop the right skills has also progressed more slowly than planned. The recurring issues with recruitment and retention of NHS staff remain and it is clear to the Committee that the government's inability to increase the number of mental health nurses is an obstacle to progress in this area.

The Committee welcomes the development of new and important ways of supporting young people's mental health through prevention and early intervention, particularly in schools. Urgent headway is needed on all these fronts if it is to provide the mental health services and support that young people need.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, responded:

"I welcome this report, which I called for and which echoes the evidence I gave to the Select Committee warning that significant improvements to children's mental health services are desperately required because too many children are failing to receive any support at all.

"The NHS 10 year plan will improve access to CAMHS for more children, but until the Government can guarantee that all children will get the specialist help they need, every year thousands of children will still miss out on treatment. The Government must be more ambitious about the resources and reforms needed to ensure every child who needs support receives it, when they need it. That will require policies like an NHS-funded counsellor in every school to identify and tackle problems early, and closer parity between what is spent on adult and child mental health services."

For the Public Accounts Committee's report, click here. For the Committee's conclusions and recommendations, click here.