Parity of esteem for mental health services could be ‘further away than ministers think’

World mental health day: number of young people in need of mental healthcare may be underestimated

World mental health day: number of young people in need of mental healthcare may be underestimated

The last government survey of children's mental health needs was back in 2004. Picture: iStock

The government may be 'even further away than it thought' from achieving its goal of equal access to physical and mental health services for young people.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report said if current initiatives are delivered as planned, there will still be significant unmet need for mental healthcare.

The conclusions come as a global mental health summit continues in London, where health and social care secretary Matt Hancock yesterday stated the UK government's ambition for parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

He said: 'We can’t improve physical health without improving mental health. So, I can announce today, we’re putting a further £30 million into global mental health research through the UK’s National Institute of Health Research.'

Level of need may be underestimated

In its report, the NAO warns that the number of young people with a mental health condition is likely to be higher than previously estimated, which will make the government's ambitions harder to realise.

NAO head Sir Amyas Morse said parity of esteem between physical and mental health services for children and young people was a laudable aim but needs to be matched with planning, resourcing and coordination.

He added: 'Rising estimates of demand may indicate that the government is even further away than it thought.'

Boost access for children and young people

The government hopes 70,000 additional children and young people will receive treatment every year by 2020/21, which would boost access by up to 35%.

An additional £1.4 billion was promised for children and young people's mental health services between 2016/17 and 2020/21.

According to the most recent government survey of children's mental health needs, carried out in 2004, 10% of five to 16-year-olds had a mental health condition.

If prevalence is higher when the results of the next survey are published at the end of this year, the NHS would have to treat tens of thousands more children and young people to achieve an access rate of 35%, according to the NAO report.

Charity YoungMinds policy director Marc Bush said the report should act as a wake-up call and action was needed to recruit and retain staff to ensure there is better support in the community when problems emerge.

The RCN is attending the summit, where 50 countries are represented, to lobby on issues including mental health nursing shortages.

Further information

NAO report on young people's mental health

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