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May to offer increase in NHS mental health support for under 18s

May to offer increase in NHS mental health support for under 18s

Theresa May will promise a major expansion in NHS help for children and young people who are struggling with mental health problems in order to tackle the “scandal” of most under-18s not receiving treatment. Health service bosses hope the move will end the persistent criticism that only a minority of young people end up receiving…

Theresa May will promise a major expansion in NHS help for children and young people who are struggling with mental health problems in order to tackle the “scandal” of most under-18s not receiving treatment.

Health service bosses hope the move will end the persistent criticism that only a minority of young people end up receiving help for debilitating conditions such as depression, eating disorders and psychosis.

The pledge will be included in the NHS Long Term Plan, which the prime minister will launch on Monday at a hospital with Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England.

For years MPs, psychiatrists, mental health charities and families have accused the NHS of letting down troubled teenagers by not ensuring that far more were treated.

The NHS responded by agreeing to increase the proportion of all those with a diagnosable mental health condition who get treated from one in four (25%) to one in three (35%) by 2020/21. But key figures, such as the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said that even that revised ambition was inadequate and cast doubt on the NHS’s commitment to ensuring “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health conditions.

However, the long-term plan – which will set out how the NHS will spend the extra £20.5bn a year it will receive by 2023/24 – will make clear that many more under-18s will receive care over the next few years.

Stevens has been considering pleas from Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, and Paul Farmer, the boss of the mental health charity Mind, to increase the target for treatment from 35% to 50%.

When he was quizzed in October about the 35% figure by MPs on the Commons public accounts committee (PAC), Stevens assured them that that target would be increased as part of the plan to deliver “a more ambitious set of service expansions and reforms in mental health, as well as in other areas”.

Improvements in access to treatment meant that 30.5% of under-18s were already being helped by specialist NHS child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs), he said. The NHS was “on track” to deliver the 35% pledge by 2020/21, he added.

May has pledged to dramatically improve NHS mental health care for people of all ages as part of her personal agenda of addressing the “burning injustices” in British society she identified upon becoming premier in July 2016.

She has made better help for under-18s a key priority and unveiled plans to hand schools a key role and also introduce a maximum four-week waiting time for them to start receiving help, although initially only in some parts of England.

However, Stevens has cautioned that serious staffing problems across mental health services limit the NHS’s ability to expand Camhs care to deal with the growing number of under-18s who are being afflicted by various forms of mental ill-health.

He told the PAC that: “We want to get to a position where ultimately every child who needs a specialist NHS mental health service is able to get it, but that might not be the same as every child with a diagnosable mental health condition, which at the moment is what the 30% or 35% is tracking.”

May will reveal key elements of the plan on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One on Sunday morning, while the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, will then give further details on Sophie Ridge’s politial chatshow on Sky News.

Mental health campaigners made clear that the plan must significantly increase the number of children and young people who receive help. They pointed out that, as NHS bosses would not allow under-18s with a serious physical condition such as cancer to go untreated, the same should apply to those with psychological or psychiatric conditions, some of which can lead to self-harm and suicide.

“The previous target of treating just a third of under 18s with a diagnosable mental health condition simply isn’t good enough, particularly given that the most recent statistics on the number of young people experiencing mental ill health showed there has been a significant increase in the last decade,” said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“If they were waiting months or even years for cancer treatment there would be an outcry, which is why we’ve repeatedly asked the government to address this issue.”

The college has lobbied Stevens to commit in the plan to treating at least 45% of children in need by 2023/24, and wants to see that increased again to 70% by 2028/29.

Anne Longfield, a vocal critic of the fact that many families face delays and rationing of care when seeking help from Camhs for their child, said all young people with mental health problems should get help.

“I’ll welcome any progress being made to improve services, but any system that does not provide Camhs support to every child who needs it will still be failing thousands of children. I can’t ignore that. Nor would any of us if it were physical illness under discussion.

“The government must aim higher and provide clear targets and timetables so that by 2023 no child who needs help is turned away,” she added.

Emma Thomas, the chief executive of the charity YoungMinds, said: “Right now, we’re facing a mental health crisis for young people, with more than a million having diagnosable mental health problems and the vast majority not able to access NHS support.

“Parents and young people tell us every day that they have been left to cope on their own while their problems have got worse, with some dropping out of school and becoming suicidal.”

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