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NAO: CAMHS will face 'significant unmet need' even if Government targets reached

Children and adolescents will still face ‘significant unmet need’ in accessing mental health services even if the Government meets its targets, an official report has warned.

The Government has set out a goal of ensuring access to mental health services for an additional 70,000 children and adolesents annually, however the National Audit Office (NAO) said even with this ‘only about one-third of young people with mental health conditions would receive NHS treatment’.

The NAO report, published today, also said ‘significant data weaknesses' are limiting the Government’s 'ability to understand progress’ towards delivering its own target.

The warning comes after a leading psychiatrist warned that child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are ‘not fit for purpose’.

The NAO report said: ‘One major aim of the NHS’s Forward View programme is to increase the proportion of children and young people accessing NHS-funded mental health services from around 25% of those in need to 35%, between 2015/16 and 2020/21…

‘Yet even if this was achieved there would remain significant unmet need for mental health services.’

It added: ‘The NHS has reported being on track to meet the access rate target… However, in our view, the NHS cannot reliably report progress directly against the 70,000 target: it has no robust baseline measure and we have further concerns about the equivalence of the 70,000 target to a 10% increase in access rates.’

NAO auditor general Amyas Morse said: ‘Current targets to improve care are modest and even if met would still mean two-thirds of those who need help are not seen.

‘Rising estimates of demand may indicate that the Government is even further away than it thought.’ 

BMA consultants committee deputy chair and NHS child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Gary Wannan said the report 'highlights that there is a long way to go to bring services up to the level they should be, following years of chronic underfunding'.

He added: 'With a rising number of children and young people presenting with mental health issues and CAMHS repeatedly struggling to meet the ever-growing demand, failure to prioritise this is paramount to failing the younger generation.'

A recent study found that the proportion of children and young people self-reporting a mental health condition has grown six-fold across England over two decades.

Pulse has approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.

The Government announced in July that it would trial a new four-week waiting time standard for children and young people referred for mental health treatment by GPs and other professionals, to try and boost the number of mentally unwell children treated by CAMHS from one in four to one in three.

Readers' comments (3)

  • while agreeing that CAMHS is unable to meet targets there are increasing problems with drugs and social media which do require the parents exert some control over their offspring

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  • Vinci Ho

    (1) I always take NAO report a bit more seriously than others and if even the government reaches the so called target , there will still be two thirds of our young people in need of mental health care not to be seen promptly. This is a serious issue . It also begs the question of how the so called target was set by the government in the first place .? It would be unforgivable if by any chance , the figure 70,000 was a result of an anecdotal , precarious and insouciant estimation from bureaucratic technocrats. In a similar tone , we have been constantly criticising NICE for the controversies it created repeatedly.
    (2)‘’Things have their roots and branches, affairs have their end and beginning. When you know what comes first and what comes last, then you are near the Way.’’
    Great Learning(University)

    The World and its cultures are changing rapidly, probably faster and more furious than one can catch up with . New social phenomenon is ramification ( the branches) of new events ( the roots) : Globilisation , internet , social media etc have their merits as well as disadvantages with historical meanings( compare with the 1910’s and 1920’s with explosion of ‘new’ ideologies, for example) .
    My gut feeling is these ramifications ,as far as our younger people are concerned, have not been discerned and fully appreciated by us , the older generations and more importantly, those in charge of government(s) . In fact , many of us have even fallen on the slippery slope presuming new ‘answers’ had been found for old , existing ‘problems’( also true if you swap positions of ‘answers’ and ‘problems’!).Ultimately it is about attaining certain balances but the pendulum is certainly swinging towards one end of extreme right now.
    (3) Youngsters in every era are facing difficulties while the world is ever changing. We, of older generation(s) , were once adolescent and relatively innocent and felt our parents , teachers etc failed to ‘understand’ us . Well, this circle of life goes on . The important question is not just merely about how to help our youngsters, but essentially , how to help them to help us to help them? ( the famous quote from Jerry Maguire , ‘ Help me help you!’).
    The current controversy on better access to GP on smartphone apps is an interesting arena for looking at these issues . While I respect the argument that the apps provide an easy portal to young people to access healthcare , I also worry that the presumed ‘quick-fix’ is masking their underlying issues (including mental) which certainly need more efforts and in-depth remedies. The bottom line is , of course , correct estimates of the resources required to do the job properly instead of harvesting despicably the political gain by its surface value .

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  • David Banner

    CAMHS should freely admit that it is not fit for purpose and openly campaign for more resources. Instead they claim to be providing a reasonable service whilst rejecting GP referrals left right and centre. Bouncing back referrals to reduce workload does NOT equal a good service.

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