Spending cuts made by local authorities and NHS commissioners to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) have pushed the system to ‘breaking point’, a charity has warned.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by YoungMinds found that 74 of 96 of NHS clinical commissioning groups (77%) that provided data had cut or frozen their investment in CAMHS in 2014-15. Almost half (49) of the 101 local authorities that provided data had cut or frozen their CAMHS budgets in 2014-15, while 60% of councils had cut funding since 2010-11.
YoungMinds said that the cuts are leading to higher thresholds for care, meaning that children’s mental health often has to deteriorate to crisis point before they can access services.
In February of this year, an investigation by Community Care and BBC News revealed how problems accessing beds for young people in crisis had led to acutely unwell children being admitted to adult mental health units or sent hundreds of miles for care.
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “YoungMinds has been warning for several years about the dangers in cutting children and young people’s mental health early intervention services. Over the last few months we have seen the consequences of these cuts with reports of children and young people with mental illnesses ending up in police cells, being transferred hundreds of miles away or placed on inappropriate adult wards because there haven’t been the beds available.
“If the government wants to see the mental health strategy delivered on the ground it must urgently ensure that appropriate levels of resources are given locally and nationally to children and young people’s mental health.”
Norman Lamb, the care and support minister, said the YoungMinds figures highlighted how mental health services are often disadvantaged in local commissioning.
“It’s vital that children with mental health problems get support at the right time…We’ve set out plans to improve care for young people and I would urge everyone to put pressure on local commissioners to make sure children’s mental health gets its fair share,” he said.
Dr Martin McShane, NHS England’s national clinical director for long term conditions, said: “Local authorities are under pressure, but early intervention for children and young people with mental health problems reaps dividends.
“Joint local partnerships of local authority, school and NHS commissioners are vital to creating integrated approaches that make sure that a child or young person gets the right treatment from the right person and at the right time. Helping the next generation become resilient, happy and productive adults also brings savings to the public purse in the long term. This underpins the basis of our national ambition for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) for adults and children.”
David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people’s board, told BBC News that councils had “worked hard” to protect services but the financial climate was making this “increasingly challenging”.
“Local authorities have serious concerns about mental health funding for children, and want a complete overhaul of the fragmented and complex system they currently face each day when trying to access services delivered by the NHS and other partners,” he said.