CAMHS services under fire
By: Richard Cooke 24th October 2016

What’s Needed to Get CAMHS Back on Track?

According to a recent poll undertaken by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on behalf of The Guardian newspaper, a staggering 7 out of 10 specialist nurses caring for young people with mental health problems believe that NHS services are insufficient.

The results of the poll are damning across the board: 70% of respondents thought children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) were inadequate, 43% thought quality of care was getting worse, and 8 out of 10 nurses think problems in CAMHS are making the suffering of young people with mental health problems worse.

Cause for CAMHS Concern

One of the reasons for the problem is that rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years. Recent figures show that 1 in 10 children aged 5–16 suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder, with 80,000 suffering from severe depression. This increase in demand for services has coincided with a decrease in funding.

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people, says: “Children’s mental health services have been woefully underfunded for years.”

The Guardian/RCN poll reveals that understaffing and delays are seen as the main problems. The number of specialist mental health nurses working in NHS hospitals was reduced by 10% between 2011 and 2016. Waiting time for treatment can be anything from a few weeks to many months – in some cases, running into years. YoungMinds CEO Brennan says: “Because of long waiting lists the threshold for accessing specialist services has got higher.”

A Serious Problem

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb – who is also a former health minister – acknowledges that there is a serious problem: “We have to end the historic underinvestment in children’s mental health. It makes no sense to spend just 6% of the total mental health budget on children and young people when we know that 75% of adult mental ill health starts before the age of 18.”

It is also widely acknowledged that physical healthcare costs can be driven up as a direct result of poor mental health – the independent Mental Health Taskforce estimates the increase could be as high as 50%. That being the case, by not fully funding CAMHS now, we could be setting an already-stretched NHS up to face yet more problems in the future.

Investment on its Way?

On a more positive note, the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government promised to invest a much-needed additional £1.4 billion in children’s mental health services by 2020. As far as addressing the issues is concerned, it seems that the best approach would be to take a long-term view and to invest now in training more professionals for the future.

In the meantime, funding permitting, there is an urgent and immediate need for professionals to step up and help deliver services. It would seem that locum CAMHS professionals – people who already have the training and experience to hit the ground running – would be the obvious choice to help do just that.

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