Only a quarter of children and teenagers who need treatment for mental health problems are able to access it, a new report has revealed.
The first phase of a government-ordered review into mental health services for youngsters, carried out across England by the Care Quality Commission, also revealed many have to wait as long as 18 months before they receive any help.
The situation has been branded ‘a scandal’ by Labour politicians, who along with the Lib Dems say the Conservatives are failing children and teenagers.
Shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley said: “This report reveals the Tory government’s abject failure of children and young people in urgent need of mental health treatment.
“It is a scandal that as a result of the Tories’ neglect of child and adolescent mental health over a third of services need to improve access, with some children having to wait as long as 18 months to be treated.”
Former Lib Dem care minister Norman Lamb said the needs of a ‘whole generation’ were not being met.
“In the coalition government we produced a blueprint for improving children’s mental health care, backed by an extra £1.25 billion. But it is clear that not enough is being done,” he added.
“If the current government had shown leadership in driving these changes and ensuring that funding was being spent where it was needed, we might have seen more progress.
“The prime minister makes all the right noises about improving mental health care, now she needs to translate these words into action. Children deserve better.”
Labour wants to see mental health spending ring-fenced to make sure services do not lose out in health budgets and experts at The Children’s Society said more long-term investment must be made.
“This report paints an all-too familiar picture of the shocking state of children’s mental health,” said chief executive Matthew Reed.
“Despite increased attention and investment, services remain fragmented and are increasingly overstretched, and too many children are suffering as a result.
“Vulnerable children in desperate need of help are facing agonising waits for treatment, in many cases without anyone checking in on them to make sure their condition isn’t deteriorating, leaving families at crisis point with no-one to step in and help.
“Even worse, many children struggling with their mental health do not even make it onto the waiting list.”
The society said its own research revealed 30,000 children are turned away from mental health services every year.
The CQC, whose phase one report is based on existing reports, research and inspections of children and young people’s mental health services, said those who are able to access treatment can generally expect it to be valuable, with 59% of community services and 73% of inpatient services rated good.
But it said many health professionals who work directly with children, including GPs and A&E staff, do not always have the necessary skills to identify if a young person has a mental health problem.
During its phase two work, the commission will undertake fieldwork to establish what helps local services to achieve results, or prevents them from doing so.
Dr Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector and lead for mental health, said: “We have listened to children and young people who have used services so that we can better understand the strengths, weaknesses, barriers and bridges to care they have experienced. We will now take their voices into the next phase of this work, so that we can make effective recommendations for an improved system.
“There are many people out there working to make sure that children and young people who experience mental health issues are offered caring support. Their dedication is to be celebrated. However, we must also address those times when a child or young person feels let down or not listened to and make sure the same level of support is available to each and every one of them.”
He said the government’s commissioning of the report showed it considered young people’s mental health to be ‘a national priority’ and that the CQC’s findings would inform a Green Paper expected to be presented to Parliament by the end of the year.
NHS England said it was confident “the taps had been turned on” on mental health spending, but that it would take “years of concerted practical effort” to solve the gaps in services and meet urgent need.