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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.


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