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NHS chief admits plans to expand CAMHS workforce in doubt

Government plans to expand mental health services for children over the next four years have already been thrown into doubt, after NHS England’s lead on mental health admitted recruitment of the necessary workforce may need to be rethought.

Under the plans, laid out in the Five Year Forward View on Mental Health, NHS England wants to expand the offer of psychotherapy in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) so that an additional 70,000 patients are able to access help each year by 2020/21.

To do this, the plan is to recruit some 1,700 extra therapists and supervisory staff to CAMHS across the country.

However, speaking at a recent London meeting on implementing the programme, NHS England national clinical director for mental health Professor Tim Kendall said the organisation may need to draw up alternative plans, given the workforce is already significantly under-staffed and needs to recruit more than half this number just to fulfil current needs.

Professor Kendall said: ’There is a big investment already under way with the aim of ensuring that people who currently work in CAMHS services can provide evidence-based psychological interventions. But it’s also to recruit an extra 1,700 staff.

‘Now I’ve got to say I think that’s a really difficult thing for us to do, not least because we are 1,000 staff short. So we are putting our minds to a ’plan B’ and ‘plan C’ if that proves difficult.’

NHS England in the announcement of its Five Year Forward View for Mental Health that the £1.4bn already committed for children and young people’s (CYP) mental health over five years ‘should be invested to ensure that by 2020 at least 70,000 more children and young people have access to high quality care’.  

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘We are pursuing “plan A” not an alternative. Don’t confuse [a Health Education England] audit of current vacancy rates with the goal of adding 1,700 extra staff on top of those actually in post.’

The spokesperson added: ‘We acknowledge that children and young people’s MH services are under resourced but it is also important to remember that services which promote good mental health should also be provided as well by schools, local authorities and the voluntary sector and we have been emphasising the need for joint work and “single points of access”, so in some circumstances the right person to see the child may not be in the NHS service, it might be in the school.’

Doubts over funding of child mental health services

The £1.4bn promised for children’s mental health in 2015 includes an extra £150m over five years for children with eating disorders and an extra £1.25bn over five years for better care for anxiety and depression, self-harm and conduct disorders.  

This is on top of the £1bn funding announced to support the rest of the plans for adult mental health, although Pulse revealed that the new funding is not ‘new’ money as it will come out of existing CCG budgets.

The new doubts about recruitment come after Pulse revealed GPs were struggling to get help for children with mental health problems seen, with two-thirds of those they refer being discharged without receiving treatment.