The newly released NHS Long Term Plan sets out commitments to expanding mental health services for children and young people in a dedicated section on children and young people’s mental health (CAMHS). The plan includes the welcome promise that funding for CAMHS will grow faster than both overall NHS funding and total mental health spending. It also promises that an estimated 345,000 more children and young people will be treated via NHS funded mental health services and school or college-based mental health support teams over the next five years.
This follows a period of significant public outcry over the state of CAMHS services across the country. A series of reports on CAMHS from the Care Quality Commission in 2017 and 2018 found that many children are unable to access timely and appropriate support, quality of care was often poor, and structure, commissioning, and oversight of CAMHS services is often ineffective. Around a quarter of children who are assessed are turned down for treatment, often on the grounds that their problems are “not serious enough”.
The new NHS Long Term plan also commits to embedding mental health support in schools and colleges, including funding and support for new Mental Health Support Teams working in schools and colleges. This is part of a package of measures proposed in the green paper “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”, which includes a strong focus on whole-school approaches to mental health and wellbeing.
While the ambition to create mental health support teams in every school is welcome, educational leaders have expressed fears that they will not be provided with the necessary resources for the new teams to work effectively, including staff time, training, and support for implementation. Concerns have also been raised about whether challenges specific to areas of significant socioeconomic disadvantage were being sufficiently taken into account in preparing to introduce the new regulations. Planned implementation of the green paper will leave many areas of the country waiting years for improvements, as the proposals are due to be in place in only ‘a fifth to a quarter’ of the country by the end of 2022/23.
More broadly, while many ambitions for improved health outcomes contained in the NHS Long Term Plan have been welcomed by experts and practitioners, questions are being asked over whether the allocated funding will be enough to deliver them. The plan also does not mention staffing, an issue which will be key to delivering improvements, with staffing shortages already posing a significant challenge and expected to cause even greater disruption after Brexit. In her response to the plan, the Children’s Commissioner has also called for an NHS-funded counsellor in every school, highlighting that more will need to be done for children with minor conditions and to improve the system as a whole.
Nurtureuk welcomes the commitment to grow CAMHS as a proportion of health services contained within the Long Term Plan, and calls on the government to further expand provision based on need, as well as ensure the promised improvements to outcomes are backed up by investment and resources.