Two-thirds of councils have reduced funding for young people’s mental health services since 2010, with budget reductions leading some services to place tighter restrictions on referrals from social workers and other professionals, figures reveal.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by mental health charity YoungMinds reveals that two-thirds of local authorities have reduced their budgets for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) since the coalition government took power in 2010.
In parts of England the budget cuts have led to CAMHS providers imposing tight restrictions on referrals from social workers and other professionals, including refusing referrals that have not come via a GP or health agency.
Councils attributed the funding drop to a number of factors, including the withdrawal of external funding for services and the closure of central government grant schemes.
Some mental health trusts told YoungMinds that cuts in council CAMHS funding had forced them to shift their focus to “tier 3 and tier 3 plus” patients (more severe cases) and restrict referrals to “health agencies only”.
Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, which delivers CAMHS services across five London boroughs, said it had it had reviewed referral thresholds “as a result of reductions in funding”.
“In some of the boroughs we cover there have been restrictions introduced to the sources of referrals,” the trust’s FOI response said.
In one borough “this has been streamlined down to health referrals only and anyone wishing to access our services in these boroughs must come via their GP,” the trust added.
“These are continuously under review and restrictions may be extended to other boroughs.”
The trust said that “in general” all cases are assessed within 12 weeks of receiving a referral and “urgent cases” are prioritised.
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said CAMHS services were “vital” to social workers, particularly given the need for specialist support for children in the care system.
“Over the years CAMHS has been such a finite service that it has been a frustration for social workers who are trying to get support. Waiting lists have been really high and referral criteria can be about managing demand, so news of drops in funding is concerning,” said Mansuri.
“It is another blight on preventative services. If young people who need this kind of help can’t get it earlier in life then what is going to happen to them in adulthood? And that is about education as well, it isn’t just about social care.”
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said the funding cuts raised question marks over local delivery of the government’s commitment to early intervention as stated in the mental health strategy.
“Local authorities must realise the vital role they have to play in supporting young people’s mental health,” said Brennan.
Andy McNicoll is Community Care’s community editor