More than a quarter of children and young people - including those who had self-harmed or been abused - were rejected last year for specialist mental health treatment, a leading think tank has claimed.

A total of 26% of those referred to specialist children’s services in 2018-19 - around 133,000 children and teenagers - were turned away, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI), following a study examining access to waiting times and treatment provision for the most vulnerable children in England. 

In its Annual Report on access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), the EPI claims that treatment rates have not improved over the last four years, despite an extra £1.4bn of funding. It also says there is significant regional variation in England, with young patients in the Midlands and the east being more likely to be turned away than those in London. 

The Institute uses new data obtained from freedom of information (FOI) requests to mental health providers and local authorities during the course of a year. The data is not published by the NHS, which has said that the EPI’s analysis is ‘flawed’. 

The report - which estimates that the wider economic cost of poor mental health in England stands at £105bn each year - reveals: 

  • 133,000 children and young people were rejected for specialist mental health services in 2018-2019. 
  • On average, providers in London rejected 17% of referrals, compared to 28% in the south, the Midlands and the east. 22% of referrals were rejected in the north
  • The most common reason given for rejection included children’s conditions not being suitable for treatment, or because the conditions did not meet eligibility criteria

Despite the national average waiting time for children and young people to begin treatment falling by 11 days since 2015, patients still waited an average of two months (56 days) to begin treatment in 2019. This is double the government’s four-week target, which it aims to reach by 2022-23.

While the relatively higher number of referrals in London being accepted is good news for young people, it also led to the longest median waiting times - 65 days, compared to 49 days in the Midlands and east of England. The EPI’s report also revealed that waiting times for treatment varied considerably between mental health providers, from just one day to 182 days, or six months. 

The report also highlights a lack of support among local authorities for teenagers transitioning from child to adult mental health services, with only a minority of LAs having a dedicated service to support the transition. The EPI is now calling for a universal system for reporting data on access to CAMHS, including a clear definition of eligibility and stronger accountability measures.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, the majority of mental health problems develop by the age of 24. Anxiety, stress and depression have been associated with poorer academic outcomes, with a 210% increase in university dropouts among students experiencing mental health issues between 2009 and 2015.

Mental health and wellbeing services for children and young people are now covered by many family health insurance policies, with cover available for those studying away from home as well as children and teenagers still living with their parents. Some of our health insurance partners include mental health as standard, while the majority offer it as add-on cover. Comparing health insurance quotes can help safeguard the mental health of all your family members, so use our simple form or give us a call on 0800 862 0373.


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