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GP referral woes as number of children needing mental health support doubles

GP referral woes as number of children needing mental health support doubles

Double the number of children and young people are being referred to mental health services than before the pandemic, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.

Almost 200,000 referrals were made to children and young people’s mental health services (CAHMS) for under-18s between April and June this year, the College said, an increase of 134% on the same period last year and 96% on 2019.

In all 8,552 children and young people were referred for urgent or emergency crisis care in that three-month period – 80% more than last year and 64% more than 2019, the analysis of data from NHS Digital shows.

Speaking with Pulse, GPs said they were not surprised by the figures and that referring children for CAHMS support was difficult due to limited capacity with referrals frequently rejected.

At the end of June there were 340,694 children in contact with CAMHS, which is 51% higher than before the pandemic.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists urged new education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to make children and young people’s mental health needs a top priority and ensure schools have clear plans in place and to improve the roll-out of Mental Health Support Teams.

Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘These alarming figures reflect what I and many other frontline psychiatrists are seeing in our clinics on a daily basis.

‘The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the nation’s mental health, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that children and young people are suffering terribly.’

She added: ‘Children’s mental health services must also be properly funded and properly staffed if we are to treat the ever-growing number needing mental health care. Without investment we run the risk of many more needing crisis help.’

The College wants to see a national network of early support hubs to provide easy-to-access, drop-in mental health support for young people, on a self-referral basis.

Professor Azeem Majeed, GP and professor of primary care at Imperial College London said figures had shown an increase in the number of children and young adults with mental health problems since the start of the pandemic and factors such as school closures and social isolation will have played a role as well as the stress from they or family members being ill with Covid.

‘Referring children for additional support from CAMHS teams can be difficult. Many referrals are rejected.

‘CAMHS teams have limited capacity, and even for children who are accepted, there are long delays to see a mental health professional.’

He added: ‘Addressing this will be difficult. As well as additional support for CAHMS teams, there is also a need to tackle the wider determinants of mental health in children – such as education, housing, poverty.’

Dr Richard Cook, a GP in West Sussex, said he was seeing large numbers of children with mental health problems and huge waits for any service ‘if they are accepted at all’.

‘We have had a large number of children presenting with eating disorders. We need more services, that are more accessible to young people. Even our local private providers have no capacity.’

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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

John Glasspool 23 September, 2021 8:43 pm

I don’t know. It’s a very complicated issue. So many of the referrals are of “unhappy” children, and not those with true mentall illness, I susperct. And, of course, schools can’t have “naughty children” any more: they all have to ahve “conduct disorder”. Utter BS.

Vinci Ho 24 September, 2021 7:07 am

One would have expected these figures easily coming out of lockdowns but there are certainly other implications:
(1) The system of how to deal with mental problems in children was already dysfunctional before last 18 months of Covid desolation. I do not want to be cynical about whether certain cases should or should not be referred or definition of certain ‘mental diagnoses’ . Reality is ever-changing and the system should have been adjusting and adapting . It did not happen .
(2) Frontline GP colleagues kept bumping onto brick walls for referring certain cases onwards in last five to six years anyway . How to help these parents to deal with these children remains a real but complex issue . The fundamental medico-social-economic model still applies . Question is still how to find tangible solutions. Easy said than done , I suppose ?🤨
(3) This post apocalyptic phase of Covid is only Chapter 2 , the ramifications include not just what we witnessed last 18 months(diseases and fatalities) , but the impact on our following generations ……..

David Banner 24 September, 2021 10:43 pm

Are GPs still referring to CAMHS? Gave up years ago, no point raising parents’ expectations only to have to deal with the inevitable rejection down the line.