A growing number of vulnerable young people are being put at risk because of “serious and deeply ingrained problems” in children’s mental health services, a critical report by the Commons’ health select committee has found.
MPs claimed mental health services were “operating in a fog”, because essential research into the state of children’s and adolescent’s mental health in England was 10 years out of date.
Committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston said essential data is needed to address the growing threat of sexting, cyber-bullying and graphic online content on children’s mental health.
“It is a disgrace that we don’t have provision data on children’s mental health service”
She demanded a “significant increase” in investment after some services in the country reported up to a 25% increase in the amount of children and adolescents seeking help.
Dr Wollaston, who is the Conservative MP for Totnes in Devon, said: “Not only do we have a shortage of prevalence data, but we have an issue around the data about the provision of services. It is a disgrace that we don’t have provision data on children’s mental health service.”
She added: “What we do have is information from all the people we’ve heard from that there has been an increase in referrals and new issues have arisen around the impact on children’s mental health with new technology and the challenges around the online environment that children face, like cyberbullying and sexting.”
Children’s mental health charity YoungMinds said it was clear that services are facing a “major crisis” which is causing daily suffering for young people and their families.
In their report on child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), the MPs said there were “major problems” with access to inpatient mental health services and an unacceptable variation in the quality of services, with families facing “battles” to have their children treated.
During their inquiry, MPs heard evidence from children who had spent months on a waiting list for therapy while some services admitted to being so overwhelmed that they only treat children once they have seriously self-harmed.
Children as young 12 are being held in police cells overnight when suffering a mental health episode because out-of-hours services do not exist in some areas while others are being admitted to mental health wards on the other side of the country away from their family.
The committee’s report stated: “There are serious and deeply ingrained problems with the commissioning and provision of children’s and adolescents’ mental health services.
“These run through the whole system from prevention and early intervention through to inpatient services for the most vulnerable young people,” it said.
In its evidence to the comittee, NHS England said only 6% of the mental health budget was currently spent on children and young people, despite half of all adult mental health problems starting before the age of 14.
The report urged the government to make huge investments in services, particularly in early intervention measures which can prevent mental health issues becoming entrenched in children.
They welcomed news that a taskforce will carry out a new study into the prevalence of mental health in children and adolescents, and urged for more data surrounding the provision of services.
“We have been told countless times of the intense frustration of mental health professionals”
Many charities that work with young people said the report came as “no surprise”.
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “We have heard over and over again from young people and their families about the overwhelming distress caused by lack of access to mental health services.
“We have been told countless times of the intense frustration of mental health professionals, as they attempt to do their best for children, young people and their families who are suffering on a daily basis,” she said.
Ms Brennan said the new report “proves beyond all doubt” that children and young people’s mental health services are “facing a major crisis”.
“The publication of this report must be a pivotal moment in addressing this crisis, our response has got to change, no longer can we sit back and pretend this isn’t happening,” she added.
Peter Liver, director of ChildLine, said: “These findings do not come as a surprise to us – we have held over 34,000 counselling sessions with young people this year who have told us they have had suicidal thoughts.
“Children are telling us they feel unable to ask for help from anyone else and we need to ensure they know they are not alone,” he added.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It’s a disgrace that vulnerable children and young people are being let down like this. The pressure on services and lack of resources is compromising patient safety and it’s unacceptable.
“Nursing staff work across all levels of the CAMHS system, from school nurses through to specialist children’s mental health nurse consultants,” he added.
“Every day they can see the consequences of perverse commissioning arrangements and inadequately funded services making it too hard for children and young people with mental health problems to access care.”