Children’s wellbeing is being put at risk by national nurse shortages, leaders have warned.
Their caution comes as a new report shows a rising number of young people are struggling with poor mental health.
“Without proper workforce planning, the situation for children and young people will only worsen”
NHS Digital has today released the latest in a series of surveys looking into the state of children’s mental health in England.
The data reveals that the prevalence of mental illness among five to 15-year-olds has increased from 9.7% in 1999, to 10.1% in 2004 and 11.2% in 2017.
The most recent survey carried out last year was expanded to cover people from the age of five and 19. Of the 9,117 respondents, one in eight (12.8%) had at least one mental disorder.
Responding to the figures, Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The rate of children and young people experiencing mental health problems shows no signs of reversing.
“Health visitors, school nurses and mental health nurses play a crucial role in promoting emotional health and wellbeing and caring for children and young people with mental health needs.
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“They also provide essential support for families and teachers and can intervene early enough to stop children needing specialist help, and therefore should be central to the government’s focus on prevention.
“However, despite their proven experience and effectiveness, registered nurses are being replaced by ‘mental health practitioners’, who do not have the same level of education and experience as registered nurses.”
Ms Smith was referring to a new role being introduced in January 2019 to support the government’s ambition to increase access to mental health care for children and young people working in both education and health settings.
“It is absolutely critical that we have the resources to give the right support to every child or young person that needs it at the earliest possible stage”
To become a mental health practitioner, students will have to complete a one-year training course.
Ms Smith warned that nursing was in the midst of a “workforce crisis” and that roles critical to the delivery of children and young people’s mental health services were particularly hard-hit.
Latest figures released today show the number of school nurses in the NHS workforce have continued to drop, plummeting to 2,187 in August – the lowest level since the data set began in September 2009.
Meanwhile, health visitors have declined from 8,100 to 7,768 over the same period.
There has been a 42% drop in learning disability nurses and 13% fall in mental health nurses.
“Without proper workforce planning, the situation for children and young people will only worsen,” Ms Smith warned.
“The RCN is calling for legislation in England to ensure that there is accountability in national workforce supply and planning, so that the health and care system can meet the needs of patients.”
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said the increase in mental disorders among the young was “deeply concerning” but added that greater awareness must be welcomed.
“It is absolutely critical that we have the resources to give the right support to every child or young person that needs it at the earliest possible stage,” he added.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokeswoman said it was ensuring 70,000 more children a year had access to specialist mental health care by 2020-21, as well as piloting a four-week waiting time standard for treatment and teaching pupils what good mental and physical health looks like.
She also cited the introduction mental health practitioners as part of the government’s response to improving the wellbeing of young people.