MPs have called for urgent action to protect children and young people’s mental health services.
Last week, the Health and Social Care Committee published a report, which found that despite the progress made in the number of young people receiving treatment, services are still at serious risk of slipping backwards due to the additional pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Research from the Centre for Mental Health predicts that 1.5 million children and young people under 18 will need new or additional mental health support in England. This figure is extremely concerning for long-term health policy, as the Health and Social Care Committee report noted that half of mental health conditions become established before the age of 14, and NHS data estimates that in 2020 one in six young people had a long-standing diagnosed mental health condition.
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Consequently, MPs have raised the alarm to those on the ground pressures combined with the service backlog the pandemic has created. They reported that demand is already placing an unprecedented strain on overstretched services and has the potential to do so long-term.
‘Politicians and policymakers need to be more ambitious and properly fund community services to meet the scale of the mental health crisis’
In the report, the Health and Social Care Committee welcomed recent NHS targets to increase access rates and decrease waiting times. However, they concluded that even these ambitions are insufficient as the plans will not accommodate more than half of the young people who require treatment.
Similarly, the Committee praised the new school-based initiative of Mental Health Support Teams, saying they offer a valuable opportunity for early intervention. On the other hand, the Committee identified that no additional fundings in the recent governmental Spending Review to actually roll out these teams nationwide – once again noting a lack of political commitment to the ambitious policy.
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Additionally, the report highlighted the post-code lottery of community drop-in mental health hubs, recommending that these services are funded across the country. Evidence has shown these community services have enormous promise in preventing an escalation of mental health symptoms. MPs stated, ‘where these hubs already exist in the UK… they fill a vital gap in the health system and are perceived as accessible to young people.’
Commenting on the report, Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, referenced this point. He said: “Mind has been campaigning with other mental health organisations for the UK Government to invest in a network of hubs for 11–25-year-olds across England. These hubs enable young people with emerging mental health problems to get the support they need without an appointment or referral. We are pleased that the Committee has recommended that the UK Government funds this model of mental health support in every area across the country.”
"If the UK Government does not act on this recommendation, it risks betraying an entire generation by potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of young people in crisis, with the NHS picking up the pieces.”
Consequentially, the overarching theme contained in the report’s recommendations was that the Government needs to act and produce an improved plan for funding local community mental health services, enabling early intervention and treatment, and as a side-effect alleviate the mounting pressures which is being felt across the entire health system, from GP appointments to A&E crisis care.
NHS services are at a “breaking point”, there is a "growing risk" that mental health will return to the “poor relation”
On another related note, due to increased demand for NHS services, Health and Social Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt MP cautioned that there is a "growing risk" that limited NHS resources will be shifted to elective and emergency care, effectively producing a downgrading of mental health services.
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He said: “Partly because of the pandemic, we are seeing demand for mental health treatment pushing NHS services to breaking point. Whilst we recognise that capacity to provide such services is increasing, we are not convinced it is happening at a fast enough rate.”
“There is a growing risk that elective and emergency care pressures will mean mental health services once again become the poor relation.”
“Our report uncovers good progress in schools provision but a continuing failure to find community care for too many young people who end up in inappropriate secure provision that makes their illness even worse."