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Mental health services for children and young people “at risk of backward slide”

MPs call for “urgent action” to prevent mental health services slipping backwards as a result of additional demand created by the pandemic and the scale of unmet need prior to it.

13/12/21

Mental health services for children and young people “at risk of backward slide”

A new report from the Health and Social Care Committee finds that despite progress in numbers of young people receiving treatment, it was unacceptable that more than half with a diagnosable condition pre-pandemic do not receive the mental health support they need.

The report found that the mental health of children and young people has worsened in the pandemic, with research from the Centre for Mental Health showing that in England 1.5 million children and young people under 18 will need new or additional mental health support.

Data in the report from NHS Digital further showed that, in 2020, potentially one in six young people had a diagnosable mental health disorder – up from one in nine three years earlier – which is placing a huge additional strain on already stretched children and young people's mental health services, the group of MPs said. The report also notes that half of all mental health conditions become established before the age of 14, emphasising the importance of getting services for children and young people right.

The report finds that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England have made progress in expanding the provision of children and young people’s mental health services in recent years, with significant additional funding. However, MPs say they are “deeply concerned” that the pressure created by fighting a pandemic and dealing with the backlog it creates is leading to a neglect of long-standing mental health priorities.

“We are also worried that a sufficient proportion of the additional funding from the health and social care levy has yet to be allocated to mental health in a way that is consistent with repeated commitments to parity of esteem,” the report said.

New Mental Health Support Teams in schools have “offered a valuable opportunity” to identify those beginning to experience problems with their mental health. However, MPs note there was no funding to roll them out nationally in the recent Spending Review settlement and that current plans lack ambition.

The Report also found that too many children and young people were placed in inpatient units far from home, without adequate understanding of their rights, and subject to restrictive interventions.

Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee Jeremy Hunt said demand for mental health treatment is pushing NHS services to “breaking point”.

“Whilst we recognise that capacity to provide such services is increasing, we are not convinced it is happening at a fast enough rate.

“There is a growing risk that elective and emergency care pressures will mean mental health services once again become the poor relation.

“Our report uncovers good progress in schools provision but a continuing failure to find community care for too many young people who end up in inappropriate secure provision that makes their illness even worse."

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