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Worrying increase in need for child mental health services, survey finds



Children’s mental health services have seen an ‘alarming’ rise in demand as the UK emerges from the worse of the Covid-19 pandemic, a report released today has revealed.

Demand had either significantly (80%) or moderately (20%) increased compared to six months ago, an NHS Providers survey of 35 leaders of trusts providing mental health services for children and young people (CYP) between 11 and 17 May has shown.

The healthcare bosses said demand had risen across services, but particularly in eating disorders and referrals to either community or inpatient Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

One chief executive wrote: ‘Latest data shows 72% increase over usual level of CAMHS referrals. Biggest increase since schools resumed. Most alarming is the increase in first presentation with very acute symptoms – anxiety, suicidality and self-harm.’ 

In addition, 85% of trust leaders said they could not meet demand for CYP eating disorder services – the highest result across all services – while 66% said they could not meet demand for community CAMHS and 65% for inpatient CAMHS.

A further 78% of respondents said they are extremely (47%) or moderately (31%) concerned about their organisation’s capacity to meet demand within the next 12 to 18 months.

The majority (88%) of respondents blamed not being able to meet demand on increased complexity of caseloads from the coronavirus pandemic. Other reasons included additional demand from the pandemic (42%), a lack of suitable social care provision (42%) and workforce shortages (33%).

Waiting times for treatment are also rising – with 84% of trust leaders saying the amount of time children and young people are currently having to wait to access treatment is significantly (29%) or moderately (59%) increasing compared to waiting times six months ago.

NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said mental health services ‘are now entering into a time of reckoning’ after ‘chronic underinvestment in beds, workforce and capital’.

She continued: ‘These findings provide further powerful evidence that in addressing the NHS’ backlog of care and the impact of Covid-19, mental health services – including those for children and young people – must be an absolute priority.’

Earlier this year,Nursing in Practice explored the scale of the mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children – and the involvement of nurses in tackling the challenge.