Three-quarters of children’s mental health workers have seen budgets and team numbers slashed in their services, according to a survey by a leading young people’s mental health charity.
Two-thirds of staff at children’s and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) who took part in the YoungMinds research said that the cuts had impacted quality of care. Asked if the quality of Camhs care “is still high” in light of the changes, 28% said “it isn’t” and a further 21% admitted they didn’t know.
The survey of more than 300 Camhs workers revealed a demoralised workforce struggling with a combination of rising caseloads, lengthening waiting lists and dwindling team numbers. One respondent said: “We are barely coping. Morale is rock bottom and we feel we no longer have any voice in shaping services.”
The impact of cuts reported by staff included:
- Children and young people are being discharged prematurely from care.
- Early intervention work is being lost as services restrict care to young people with severe mental health issues who are self-harming or suicidal.
- Specialist services have been diluted or disbanded, with closures to mental health services for looked-after children reported in more than one area.
- Staff sickness and stress rates have increased as teams work extra unpaid hours in an attempt to plug holes in support.
- Cost-cutting drives have seen employers fail to replace staff after leaving, or replacing “well qualified staff” with people on lower pay bands.
- Referrals have risen by up to 40% in some Camhs services amid “streamlining, cuts and closures” to other support services.
Ruth Allen, chair of the College of Social Work’s mental health faculty, warned that the funding squeeze meant some councils are pulling out of joint health and social care Camhs.
“This is a worry if it fragments the links between preventive and early detection activities – for instance in schools and through child safeguarding services – and specialist NHS mental health services,” she told YoungMinds magazine.
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said the survey painted a “worrying snapshot” of frontline Camhs provision and admitted the charity was “deeply concerned” of the impact on quality of care.”
“The government’s mental health strategy has early intervention among children and young people as one of its priorities, yet the professionals who have responded to the survey seem to suggest that this is not what is happening on the ground,” Brennan added.
Social work leaders have previously warned that cuts to services threaten to derail the government’s mental health strategy, particularly its focus on early intervention and prevention work.Andy McNicoll is Community Care’s community editor