Mental health services failing children, CQC study reveals

Care Quality Commission says four in ten mental health services for children are failing, with young people facing long delays for treatment.
Depressed children

Four in ten mental health services for children are failing, with young people facing long delays for treatment, according to a government-ordered review.

The Care Quality Commission report found that some children faced
18-month waits for help from mental health services. Picture: Alamy

The study, from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), found many services set their own targets for how quickly children should be seen, leading to children's mental health deteriorating while they were forced to wait.

Some children endured 18-month waits for help, while in one service there was a wait of more than a year (493 days) for cognitive behavioural therapy, and a 610-day wait for family therapy, the report stated.

The analysis showed that some children and young people are waiting an extremely long time to access the specialist care and support they need, while specialist community services have ‘set their own waiting time targets’, with significant variation.

One child may be seen within 35 days in one service, but a child in another part of the country may wait 18 weeks or more, it said.

Heavily criticised

The report, which is the first phase of a government-commissioned review, also heavily criticised arrangements for crisis care for those in most desperate need.

Sometimes, this care was only available during working hours of 9am to 5pm, leaving night-time care provided by adult psychiatrists who lacked expertise in children’s mental health.

And, due to demand, some children and young people are being admitted to adult wards as there are no beds available in wards for people their age.

The report was partly based on 101 CQC reports of specialist child and adolescent mental health services.

Good quality care

It found that when young people were able to access specialist services, they often received good quality care.

Responding to the report, RCN professional lead for children and young people Fiona Smith, said increasing numbers of school nurses would provide children with much-needed support.

‘It is encouraging that high-quality care is available, but the organisations that provide, fund and commission support for children and young people are failing to work together and communicate effectively. 

‘Better collaboration between services could reduce the variation in care provided across the country and make it easier for patients to access the care they need.

‘Schools have a crucially important role in identifying and responding to pupils’ mental health needs, but many teachers lack the training and capacity they need. 

‘School nurses have the skills and the experience to provide a wide range of early intervention mental health support, from counselling to promoting healthy lifestyles. But their numbers are dwindling, stretching services and preventing them from reaching vulnerable children and intervening before problems escalate further.’

£100 million funding

Mental health nurse and NHS England mental health director Claire Murdoch said that funding for young people’s mental health services has increased by £100 million in the last year alone.

‘But NHS England has also been explicit about the scale of unmet need, which recent improvements have inevitably only been able to begin to tackle,’ she added.

‘It’s going to take years of concerted practical effort to solve these service gaps – even with new money – given the time it inescapably takes to train the extra child psychiatrists, therapists and nurses required.’

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