Adolescent mental health services in England are failing to treat 60 per cent of GP referrals


New figures obtained by UK children’s charity Spurgeons show the children’s mental health crisis in England is worsening, despite government pledges to address it.

Data from 32 NHS Trusts showed around 60 per cent of under-18s who are referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) by their general practitioner (GP) are not receiving treatment.

Meanwhile, self-harm admissions to accident and emergency (A&E) departments for young people have increased for the seventh year running according to figures from 59 A&E departments in England. The figures also highlighted a stark gender split, with around 77 per cent of A&E or hospital admissions for self-harm made by girls in the period 2010 to 2016.

In response, the charity has developed an innovative programme for young people who self-harm and their families.

Spurgeons says its Family Intervention for Self Harm (FISH) therapeutic programme will help those young people who don’t have a formal mental health diagnosis and therefore do not qualify for specialist mental health support services such as CAMHS. Funded by a Big Lottery Fund Reaching Communities Grant, and piloted in Birmingham (UK), the charity says FISH will save the National Health Service (NHS) money and potentially save lives.

Jag Basra, Assistant Psychologist and Lead of FISH, said:

It has become increasingly apparent that many young people that self-harm do not have a diagnosed specific mental health condition, leaving this particular group without some form of support provision.

The facts are harrowing. At least four young people in every secondary school class are now self-harming. Within the last decade we’ve seen a considerable rise in the range of mental health issues impacting young people, in part due to social media pressures and the ongoing stigma towards speaking about our mental health.

Ultimately the long-term implications of self-harm are frightening, and in some cases fatal, and it is for this reason that addressing self-harm needs to be a major public health priority.

Ross Hendry, CEO of Spurgeons, said:

We know these are hard times and NHS budgets have many competing priorities. We believe that charities like ours can play a crucial role in helping to safeguard these vulnerable young people. FISH will ease the pressure on CAMHS, enabling them to increase the rates of young people they treat who are at crisis point.

GPs, social workers, schools and other professionals can refer young people to the FISH programme, which will reduce the number of direct referrals to CAMHS.

The project could also save costs in the long-term by reducing the likelihood of a young person developing adult mental health problems.

Basra explained:

For some children and young people, self-harming can be used as a coping strategy to manage heightened emotions, therefore increasing the risk of recurring self-harm incidents.

Supporting young people and their families as early as possible to explore and understand the complexities and impact surrounding self-harm is vital for their ongoing wellbeing.

Currently, there are no structured self-harm interventions for children and young people within a family setting. This is despite evidence that when families are involved in interventions for children and young people, professionals get better results.

Basra added:

Pressures on the NHS results in limited resources to provide young people and families with targeted support for self-harm. By establishing a family orientated and holistic approach, the FISH project recognises that parental support is crucial in aiding a young person’s recovery from self-harming.

Spurgeons Children’s Charity is calling on commissioners in England and Wales to look at alternative solutions to the adolescent mental health crisis in this budget-cut environment.

Hendry added:

As a charity that thrives on partnering with other organisations, and which believes every child deserves a future, we want to hear from mental health commissioners who share our mission. By working together we can help give hope to every child.


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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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