Children struggling to access mental health services, says CQC report

Children and young people are reaching ‘crisis point’ before accessing mental health services because public services are not working together effectively, a report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found.

Examining ten areas across England, the regulator said the mental health service system is ‘complex and disjointed’, with ‘different parts not working well together’. It spoke with more than 1,300 people through focus groups and one-to-one interviews, including young people, carers and professionals.

Despite welcoming government proposals to establish dedicated mental health support teams in schools and additional funding set out in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, the CQC said more needs to be done.

It wants the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jeremy Hunt to use the inter-ministerial group on mental health to guarantee more collaboration across government departments in how their policies prioritise the wellbeing of children and young people.

The 60-page report, titled Are we Listening?, found ‘symptoms of a system under pressure, from schools to the voluntary sector and to specialist child and adolescent mental health services’.

It said: ‘Long waiting lists, inappropriately high eligibility criteria, and gaps in service provision all make it harder for children and young people to access the right support at the right time.’

Confusing referral routes and the impact of staff shortages in the health and social care sectors were also highlighted in the report.

The CQC found gaps in the quality and availability of data, which it said undermines the ability of commissioners and service planners to understand the needs of vulnerable children and young people.

As well as pushing for joint action across government departments, the CQC said national bodies, including Health Education England, NHS England and NHS Improvement, must recognise examples of good care and support people working to develop ‘innovative’ approaches to high-quality care.

‘We saw many creative solutions where people working locally were overcoming some of the barriers to high-quality, person-centred care and support’, the report said.

Dr Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector of hospitals (lead for mental health) at the CQC, said: ‘Children and young people deserve to have their mental health needs and wellbeing put at the heart of every decision, be that planning, commissioning or resourcing.

‘Currently, this is not the reality everywhere and we heard from too many young people who felt they could only access care at a crisis point because local services are not working together, or are not able to work together effectively to support their mental health and wellbeing.’

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘There needs to be more clarity around commissioning of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services; shared understanding of patient needs and cross-sector collaboration to deliver services.’