Mental health: more than 50,000 pupils are not receiving specialist care they need

And a new report shows that those who are given help can wait up to 112 days for treatment

Adi Bloom

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More than 50,000 children and teenagers across the country are not receiving the specialist mental-health care they need, new figures show.

And those who are given help are having to wait as long as 112 days for their treatment.

A new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) reveals that more than a quarter – 26.3 per cent of children referred to specialist mental-health services in 2016-17 were not accepted for treatment.

Drawing on the numbers of pupils currently being treated nationally, EPI estimates that this amounts to more than 50,000 children being turned away.

This represents a significant increase since 2012-13, when 21.1 per cent of pupils were refused access to services.

Information obtained by EPI through a freedom of information request also revealed that the providers with the highest proportion of unaccepted referrals were: Norfolk and Suffolk (64.1 per cent), Hertfordshire Partnership (63.5 per cent) and Nottinghamshire Healthcare (61 per cent).

By contrast, Birmingham Children’s Hospital had no unaccepted referrals. Derbyshire Healthcare had 0.1 per cent, and Tavistock and Portman had 1.7 per cent.

'Let down'

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Children in urgent need of mental-health support are being let down by the underfunding of the system.  Our members in schools are deeply anxious that many more young people need specialist support than can access it.    

“The government must properly fund services so that every child who needs support is assessed and treated quickly, by the right experts and specialists.”    

The EPI report also revealed that those pupils who were accepted for treatment often had to wait long periods for treatment.

This varied significantly from area to area. In Dudley and Walsall, pupils had to wait an average of 112 days for mental-health care. By contrast, those in South Staffordshire and Shropshire had an average waiting time of five days.

Overall, however, waiting periods had fallen. The average national waiting time from assessment has dropped from 39 days in 2015-16 to 33 days in 2016-17. And the average waiting time for treatment has fallen from 67 days to 56 days.

EPI said: “Such progress could be the result of additional government funding targeted at children’s mental-health services.”

'Simply indefensible'

Earlier this year, Tes reported that funding cuts to mental-health services have made thresholds for care so high that desperate teenagers are making what look like suicide attempts, purely so that they can access treatment.

The EPI report has made a number of policy recommendations. It calls for government information on access and waiting times for children and teenagers to be published in a format that allows for comparison between different areas.

And, it argues, there is a strong case for establishing national standards for waiting times.

In addition, it states: “To avoid the unnecessary rejection and subsequent delay for children and young people, teachers must be equipped with sufficient training and skills.”

Mr Courtney said that the pressure on schools to fill the gap for specialist services was “simply indefensible”.

And James Bowen, director of middle-leaders’ union NAHT Edge, said: “Schools have always been on the frontline with pupils’ mental health, because school is often where issues first become apparent. However, the services that schools, families and pupils rely on are under great pressure.

“This is often leading to children and young people becoming stuck between school services that are doing all they can, and NHS services that are not available until a crisis point is reached. This must be urgently addressed.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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