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Urgent action needed to ensure children and young people can access mental health services

Education Policy Institute publishes Annual Report on access to CAMHS

Over a quarter (26 per cent) of referrals to specialist children's mental health services were rejected in 2018-2019. This amounts to approximately 133,000 children and young people.

The rejection rate, which has not improved over the last four years despite an extra £1.4bn committed from 2015-16 to 2020-21, is revealed in the Education Policy Institute's Annual Report on access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).  The study examines access to specialist services, waiting times for treatment, and provision for the most vulnerable children in England. The research is based on new data obtained using freedom of information (FOI) requests to mental health providers and local authorities over the course of a year. This data is not published by the NHS.

There is considerable regional variation in England. On average, providers in London rejected 17 per cent of referrals, compared to 28 per cent in the South, the Midlands and the East, and 22 per cent in the North. The most common reason given by providers for rejections included children's conditions not being suitable for treatment, or because conditions did not meet eligibility criteria.

While nationally, the average median waiting time to begin treatment has fallen by 11 days since 2015, children still waited an average of two months (56 days) to begin treatment in 2019 – double the government's four-week target. The EPI finds that the government is unlikely to meet its target of four weeks by 2022-23.

According to the report, local commissioners and providers of mental health support services often fail to engage with the most vulnerable children and families. Local provision is patchy and lacks accountability, being dispersed across several organisations. Support for children with less acute, common mental health conditions, such as conduct disorders, as well as those in social care, is insufficient. There is also a lack of support among local authorities for those transitioning from child to adult mental health services.

The report finds that there are multiple flaws in the current system for reporting and disclosing basic data on CAMHS in England. Accordingly, the EPI says that a universal system for reporting data on access to CAMHS, including a clear definition of children who are eligible for treatment, is urgently required. Failure to introduce stronger accountability measures may hinder the government's plans to improve services.

To download the full report, click here and then on the link. For comment by the British Association of Social Workers, click here.