Long wait for children with mental health problems

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

According to a Times investigation, vulnerable children with mental health problems are waiting up to three and a half years for assessments and almost two years for treatment.

Freedom of Information requests submitted by The Times newspaper found that the longest wait from first referral to being formally assessed since 2012 was at the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, where this took three years and 20 weeks in one case. The trust admitted the waits were ‘unacceptable’, though it added that the average waiting time had improved from 19 weeks in 2013, longer than the recommended maximum of 18 weeks, to nine weeks last year.

The longest wait from being assessed to getting treatment was found at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust in which a child waited a year and nearly 42 weeks. The London trust said that average waiting times for assessments were 25 days, but acknowledged ‘pressures’ on child mental health services, calling for ‘increased investment in specialist inpatient services.’

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the charity Young Minds, said: ‘Children’s and adolescent mental health services are creaking at the seams as they are being hit with increased referrals at the same time as cutbacks to their services.’

The number of children being sent to mental health service rose by more than 6% between 2013 and 2014, according to information about 26 mental health trusts. In some cases children had to travel hundreds of miles from one trust to another because of a lack of beds.

Norman Lamb, the care and support minister, said: ‘It’s completely unacceptable for children and young people to wait years for treatment sometimes hundreds of miles from home — we wouldn’t accept this for physical health.’ He said the Government was investing £1.25bn to improve care and deliver a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks for treatment.

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