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NHS mental health provision a ‘postcode lottery’ for children

by Jess Hacker
20 September 2021

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Just one-in-five children in need of mental health support are receiving it in some areas of England, new analysis of NHS data has shown.

In its Long-Term Plan, the NHS committed to making sure 35% of young people in need could access services by 2020/21.

However, analysis of the latest NHS prevalence data, conducted by mental health charity Mind, found that on average only 29.5% of under 18s with a probable mental disorder are being seen by NHS-funded community mental health services.

However, the charity found that at least five CCG areas were falling short of the target, which it said meant children faced a ‘postcode lottery when trying to get mental health treatment’.

According to its analysis, areas that fell short of the target included:

  • Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG (20.6%)
  • Cheshire CCG (20.8%)
  • Leicester City CCG (21.6%)
  • Somerset CCG (23.1%)
  • Barking and Dagenham CCG (23.5%)

Meanwhile, other areas such as South Tyneside see almost nine in 10 (87.2%) of young people seeking help with their mental health.

It also found that in June alone, 417,820 children – the highest figure to date – were in contact with mental health services, indicating that the number of young people in contact with these services has almost doubled from 211,236 since 2016.

This comes a month after the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that the number of under-19s waiting for urgent treatment for eating disorders tripled during the pandemic, while the number waiting for routine support more than quadrupled.

Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said that the result is thousands of young people left have been left on waiting lists with untreated mental health problems.

‘Young people’s mental health has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, and yet we have no clear commitment from politicians that any of the money allocated to the NHS in England will be spent on mental health. It is completely unacceptable,’ he said.

Mr Farmer also confirmed he has recent to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid requesting clarification as to why mental health was not addressed in last week’s NHS and social care funding announcement.

A recent study revealed that as many as three-quarters (73%) of trust leaders are concerned that their plans to address the care backlog will be disrupted by anticipated winter pressures.

Mental health and acute trusts in particular agreed that demand for mental health services currently exceeds capacity, and were concerned a backlog of care – which now sits at 5.6 million – may further exacerbate the problem.