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Suicidal children turned away in 'Russian roulette' mental health service

Published 28/05/2016

Around 248,000 children were referred for specialist mental health treatment last year but 28% were refused
Around 248,000 children were referred for specialist mental health treatment last year but 28% were refused

More than a quarter of children referred for mental health support in England last year were sent away without help, including some who had attempted suicide, according to a report.

A review of mental health services by the Children's Commissioner discovered 14% of youngsters with life-threatening conditions were not allowed specialist treatment.

Even those with the most serious illnesses who did secure treatment faced lengthy delays, with an average waiting time of more than 100 days.

Anne Longfield accused Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), the NHS body responsible for young people's mental health services, of "playing Russian roulette" with young lives.

Average waiting times ranged from 14 days in a trust in north-west England to 200 days at one in the West Midlands, while around 35% of trusts said they would restrict access to services for children who missed appointments, the review found.

Around 28% of children referred for specialist mental health treatment last year were refused, mostly on the grounds that their illness was not yet serious enough to merit specialist help, it stated.

Ms Longfield said: "Behind the stats are countless stories of children and young people in desperate circumstances not getting the vital support they need.

"I've heard from far too many children who have been denied access to support or struck off the list because they missed appointments."

She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We have got children who have life-threatening conditions around their mental health who may be suicidal, they may have psychosis, who go to their GP and then they are turned away when they get to their specialist help.

"What we are seeing is a gap emerging between the help and support that GPs can offer, and the specialist services too, so GPs may deem that actually they can't help the children, and they need specialist help, but the specialist services themselves are saying that they are not serious enough."

Former mental health champion for schools Natasha Devon claimed her post was axed because she had raised issues with austerity.

"The reason I was let go from the post is I was listening to what young people were telling me about the reasons for their anxiety," she added.

"Most of the time they were the result of austerity. It was things like poverty, and it was also the prospect of being unemployed, student debt, academic and exam pressure," she told the Today programme.

Tory MP James Morris, who chairs the all-party group on mental health, said the problems have been "building up in the system for many years" and has called for a "fundamental transformation" of services.

The commissioner obtained data from 48 of England's 60 child and adolescent mental health service trusts.

The Government has pledged £1.4 billion funding to provide support for young people.

A spokeswoman said: "No-one should have to wait too long for mental health care, or be sent away in need.

"This investment is just beginning, and is creating new joined-up plans to improve care in the community and schools to make sure young people get support before they reach a crisis point."

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