Mental health services deny access to one in four children who are referred

Young people who have self-harmed among those turned away, amid sharp rise in CAMHS referrals

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Almost a quarter of children referred to mental health services in England last year were turned away, a report reveals.

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that young people who had self-harmed or experienced abuse were among those denied access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

It also found that over the past five years, referrals to specialist children’s mental health services have increased by 26%.

Set against a population increase of just 3% over the same period, EPI says this figure indicates services are coming under increasing strain.

More than 55,000 denied treatment

Report author and EPI senior researcher Whitney Crenna-Jennings says: ‘As many as one in every four children referred are denied access to specialist mental health services, often because their condition is not deemed serious enough to warrant treatment.’

Need help?

  • For help in dealing with suicidal thoughts contact the Samaritans’ free helpline on 116 123 or visit NHS Choices: Help for Suicidal Thoughts
  • Children and young people can also contact Childline on 0800 1111 for help regarding self-harm 

It is estimated that at least 55,800 children were not accepted into treatment in 2017-18. The actual figure is likely to be higher as some providers do not disclose their referral numbers.

The most common reason for rejection of a referral was the child’s mental health condition not being serious enough to meet treatment eligibility requirements, the report says.

Other findings indicate that many areas of the country lack sufficient alternative services for young people who are turned away.

‘Misery for families and young people’

Responding to the report, National Education Union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney 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.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are transforming mental health services for children and young people with an additional £1.4 billion and are on track to ensure that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental healthcare by 2020-21.

Mental health charity Sane’s chief executive Marjorie Wallace says it is ‘shocking’ that at least 55,000 children are not receiving the treatment they need urgently.

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