In 2017-18 only three in ten children and young people with a mental health condition received NHS-funded treatment, and many more faced unacceptably long waits for treatment.
The government has committed to providing ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health services, but it is still unclear what it means by this in practice.
It also has no comprehensive, long-term plan for how it will fulfil its commitment to implement Future in Mind, which set out a cross-sector vision for how to support children and young people’s mental health.
Significant gaps in the data
There is now a welcome focus on improving NHS mental health services for children and young people, but there are still significant gaps in the data to monitor progress.
Recently published figures have underlined the scale of the task faced: one in eight (12.8%) 5-19 year olds have a mental health disorder. There has also been a marked increase in the number of 5-15 year olds who suffer from an emotional disorder: the figure now stands at 5.8% in comparison to 3.9% in 2004.
Number of mental health nurses is a roadblock to progress
Work to increase mental health staff numbers and develop the right skills has also progressed more slowly than planned.
The recurring issues with relation to the recruitment and retention of NHS staff remain unchanged and it is clear that the government’s inability to increase the number of mental health nurses is a roadblock to progress in this area.
New and important ways of supporting young people’s mental health through prevention and early intervention, particularly in schools, are now being developed.
The government must make urgent headway on all these fronts if it is to provide the mental health services and support that young people need.
Comment from Public Accounts Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:
“Children and young people with mental health conditions are being failed by the NHS. Provision is far below required levels and many people who do get help face long waits for treatment.
“This can be devastating for people’s life chances; their physical health, education and work prospects.
“The NHS must accelerate efforts to ensure it has the right staff with the right skills in the right places. But there is a broader role for Government in better supporting children and young people.
“Effective action on prevention and early intervention can help young people more quickly, as well as relieve pressures on health services.
“We will be keeping a close eye on the real-world impact of the measures proposed in the Government’s 10-year plan for the NHS.”