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Pressured staff are dealing with two new cases a minute as poor mental health continues to blight a generation. And a record 90,789 children and young people had referrals in March – the highest monthly figure on record. Experts are warning that it is the “tip of the iceberg”, as referrals race towards a million a year.
Research has shown that one in six children are now been diagthe nosed with a mental health problem, compared to one in nine before lockdown measures were imposed.
An Oxford University study also found that 80 percent of children and adolescents suffered potentially “severe and longterm” mental health problems as a result of Covid and lockdowns.
Children and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) has to turn down 50 percent of all applications for specialised help and its waiting lists have stretched to three years in some parts of the country.
The shock statistics also include the highest-ever level of children and young people referred to crisis care teams.
Emergency cases, which involve “an unexpected time-critical situation that may threaten the life, long-term health, or safety of an individual or others, and requires an immediate response”, hit their second-highest total ever in March this year.
The shocking data, released by NHS for March 2022 and analysed by YoungMinds, has disturbed charities and dismayed clinical and care teams, which are struggling to cope with staff retention and burn-out.
Emma Thomas, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “These figures are truly shocking and we know that behind them are countless stories of young people and their families struggling to get help.
“It is devastating that record numbers of our young people are reaching the point of needing NHS care for their mental health.
“This trend of sharp increases in young people needing help month on month is alarming, and clear evidence that not enough is being done to prevent and address mental health problems as early as possible.
“The Government must urgently get a grip of the situation.”
The Sunday Express is campaigning for a national network of “early support hubs” in every community, mental health support teams to be established in every school and for CAMHS waiting times to be reduced to a maximum of four weeks.
The NHS statistics also reveal that urgent referrals to crisis care teams, which require face-to-face specialist support not available from GPs, reached their highest at 2,547 in March, while emergency referrals were at 906 in the same month – second only to May 2021.
The worsening outlook is underscored by the annual figure of referrals of children and young people to mental health services almost doubling over the past three years.
The NHS recorded 392,369 referrals in 2019/20, which rose by 37 percent to 536,928 in 2020/21, and then further to 743,717 for 2021/22.
As demand increases, the pressures on clinical and support staff is soaring.
Last year, a study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that a tenth of consultant psychiatrists posts were not filled and that child and adolescent psychiatry was among the worst sectors impacted by the shortage.
Ms Thomas said: “NHS mental health services are under enormous pressure and staff are doing their best in unprecedented circumstances.
“Despite the record numbers of young people gaining access to care, we know that GPs and other professionals are really struggling to get many other young people referred for the help they need.
“There aren’t enough staff to manage demand, and waiting times are out of control – even for young people with eating disorders.”
The Centre for Mental Health has also forecast over the next three to five years, 1.5 million children and young people will require mental health support as a direct impact of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.
A YoungMinds helpline fielded a flood of calls earlier this year from parents about their anxious and depressed children, who were struggling to go back to school, and re-connect with friends and families after the pandemic eased.
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: “Even before the pandemic the number of children and young people seeking mental health support was rising and now it is reaching crisis level.
“Children and young people in particular have been hit hard over the past few years and the Government has utterly failed to get a handle on it.
“Mental health practitioners are finding themselves run into the ground and unable to provide the quality of care that our children need. This is the legacy of years of neglect of our health services by this Conservative Government .
“Liberal Democrats have long wanted to see our mental health services transformed by treating mental ill-health with the same urgency as physical health.
“But due to the Conservative Government’s failures they are still falling far short of what is needed and children and young people are suffering as a result.”
The Government has pledged a new ring-fenced fund of £2.3billion a year by 2023/24 to boost mental health services .
It states that the NHS is getting record levels of investment to care and support people with mental health conditions and has promised a range of reforms as part of a 10-year plan.
The Government is also boosting mental health support teams dedicated to schools and colleges, and released an extra £20million in 2021/22 to address the impact of the pandemic on children .
A spokesperson for the Dep – artment of Health said: “We recognise the pandemic had a significant impact on the mental health of children and young people , and we are taking action to fix this “This includes investing £79million into children’S mental health services last year, enabling around 22,500 more children and young people to access support in their communities, and across schools and colleges.
“We have seen a 40 percent increase in the NHS children and young people ‘s mental health workforce, and we’re increasing investment into mental health services by at least £2.3billion a year by 2024.”
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