The National Autistic Society has called on NHS England and the Care Quality Commission to take urgent action over “serious systemic failings” in Cumbria’s CAMHS service, which it says is endangering the lives of children with mental illness.
In seperate letters to NHS England and the CQC, the autism charity said it had “lost faith” in Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s ability to fix the problems within its child and adolescent mental health service.
The society now wants NHS England to review the commissioning of CAMHS in Cumbria and the CQC to carry out a snap inspection.
“CAMHS in Cumbria are in disarray: staff shortages are forcing under-pressure families to wait far too long for appointments, parents are all too often unable to access support in times of crisis, and things aren’t improving,” said Emma Shepherd, the area policy and participation officer (North) for the society.
“This is putting the well-being and even the lives of children with serious mental health problems at great risk and causing parents untold emotional stress. Serious concerns about the service were first raised in October 2012, but the response has been feeble and recommendations haven’t been implemented.
“We no longer feel confident that Cumbria Partnership NHS Trust has the ability to resolve these serious structural and clinical problems without outside intervention.”
The problems at Cumbria CAMHS were first raised in a 2012 report by the NHS trust and NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, which described the service as a “cause for significant concern” and highlighted issues such as inadequate data recording, a lack of 24-hour cover and a lack of staff with experience of working with major mental health problems.
The report said “only a radical restructure of the service presents as a credible response to the current level of dysfunction”.
In a statement responding to the society’s letters, the NHS trust said: “We have been open and transparent with our partners, commissioners, stakeholders and the wider public regarding the issues we have faced and the amount of work we have undertaken to improve our CAMHS service.”
The NHS trust said work to improve the autism pathway was now complete and all teams, bar psychiatry, were now “fully recruited” and that it was working with partner agencies, including social care, to develop a ‘whole system approach’ to children’s mental health support.
Efforts to reduce waiting times are also underway, it added.
“Although there has been some improvement in waiting times in recent months, waiting times are unacceptably long and lack responsiveness in some areas,” said the trust’s statement.
“We are addressing this by changing the way we communicate with families whilst they are on the waiting list offering them other means of support and advice. The work addressing inappropriate referrals will also help alleviate this.”
The NHS trust said referrals to CAMHS had doubled in the past year but around a third of referrals were inappropriate.