One in four young people with mental health referral 'rejected'

Research by the Education Policy Institute has found that a quarter of children and young people referred to mental health services in England last year were not accepted for treatment.

Increasing concerns that many are still failing to get vital support at an early stage, the EPI estimates that more than 130,000 of those referred to specialist services in 2018-19 were rejected, including young people who have self-harmed, suffered eating disorders and experienced abuse.

Despite government commitments to address shortages in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), including an additional £1.4 billion investment between 2015 and 2021, the data shows that rejection rates have remained unchanged over the last four years.

On the whole, treatment was not given because children’s conditions were not suitable, or were not serious enough to meet the threshold. Average waits were calculated as almost two months, highlighting a system struggling to cope with the demand.

An NHS spokesman rejected the report as a ‘flawed analysis’, stressing that it was wrong to assume that young people not given treatment by NHS mental health services were ‘left to fend for themselves’, rather than being directed to get support elsewhere.

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: “Young people continue to be deprived of access to specialist mental health treatment, despite the government claiming significant investment in mental health services over the past five years. Progress in improving access over this period has been hugely disappointing, and it is unacceptable that as many as one in four children referred to mental health services are being turned away.”

Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board said: “This report reinforces the need to do more nationally to improve children’s mental health services and develop a system that says yes to children when they ask for or need help. Waiting too long for support can escalate issues for children and young people and create further funding challenges as problems become more complex and expensive to treat.

“Councils have a vital role in supporting children’s mental health and are keen to work with the government to promote early intervention and prevention so the system moves away from treating children once they are ill and moves further towards helping them and their families cope with the challenges they face earlier on. This includes long-term investment in the vital early intervention and prevention services which can help children avoid reaching crisis point in the first place.”