Children and young people's mental health services are, on average, turning away nearly a quarter of those referred to them for help by their teachers, GPs or others. Those who do get accepted into services then face a postcode lottery of how long they will wait for treatment.
These are the findings of a CentreForum report published today. We conducted research into the 'hidden waiting times' for mental health treatment and found wide variation in how long young people would have to wait, ranging from two weeks to over 19 weeks in some areas. Demand is increasing and so waiting times are going up. Maximum waiting times have doubled in the last two years.
We also found indications of a reverse North/South divide with regions in the North investing more in community services than those in the South and East with corresponding capacity problems in the South East and South West.
Our report identifies a concerning 'treatment gap' where children are not always able to get the right care in the right place at the right time. Those who work in children and young people's mental health services already know this. They are, in the vast majority, dedicated and caring people, frustrated by workforce shortages and rising demand in the context of austerity. This is not about apportioning blame but about shining a spotlight on the inequality that has existed within the NHS for too long.
The Coalition Government made good strides in addressing this issue. In March 2015, Nick Clegg announced £1.25billion over the next five years to transform services. This year David Cameron became the first Prime Minister to make a major speech on mental health.
Nevertheless it is important that this new money reaches the services that need it. Of the £250million for this year, only £75million has reached the local NHS and as it is not ring-fenced, there is no guarantee that it will be spent on children's mental health. Progress is being made, but this situation has existed for decades, and it will take time to turn services around.
CentreForum's Commission will now seek to explore the barriers which will undermine the achievement of the vision set out in Future in Mind in our next report. One key concern is the lack of good quality data. Services are developing 'transformation plans' across the country but they are based on statistics published in 2004 on how many children and young people have mental health problems. Services are operating in the dark, with no consistent national collection of data on expenditure, waiting times or the quality of treatment.
CentreForum's main recommendation in this report is for swift progress to be made on clear and consistent data collection. Waiting time standards should introduced, just as there are already in physical health, so that young people and their parents have more clarity on what care they will receive and how long they will have to wait, and so that there is much more transparency in the system.