Since being elected as an MP over a year ago I have consistently received reports from constituents that waiting times for children and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) referrals are in excess of nine months. This is totally unacceptable and a recent report by the Charity YoungMinds found that 76% of those waiting became more unwell during this time.
Moreover, it has been estimated that only one in four children & young people who require help for mental health issues actually obtain access to CAMHS services. This limited access would not be tolerated in the acute sector so why has it been allowed to happen for mental health and especially for the mental health of our children?
Despite the best efforts of NHS staff CAMHS services are struggling to meet rising demand. Around one in ten children have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet just 8% of the total NHS mental health budget is spent on CAMHS. Meanwhile, the Government’s austerity agenda has meant that more than 60% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health budgets between 2011/12 and 2016/17 and further underfunding has lead to money intended for mental health being used to plug funding gaps in the wider NHS.
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), which provides mental health services in our area have been required to make savings of £70m in the last 2 years, with an additional £16.4m to be saved in 2018/19. Despite this, both Lewisham Council and Lewisham CCG have agreed not to reduce funding for their CAMHS services for 2018-19. But this still does not mean they have adequate funds to operate.
As it stands just 0.7% of the total NHS budget is spent on CAMHS, yet referrals increasing by two-thirds and unacceptably long waiting times show that CAMHS needs more funding. This is something I have consistently raised in Parliament, challenging the Prime Minister, Health Secretary and Chief Secretary to the Treasury on. To date, I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.
This lack of commitment to resolving the issue has lead the Governors of SLaM, myself and fellow South London MPs to send a joint letter to the Health Secretary calling on the Government to commit the necessary funding to mental health and specifically CAMHS services in South East London. We await the Health Secretary’s response.
If the Government is to be taken seriously on this issue then they must ensure waiting times for treatment become minimal and that supply is apace with demand, all of which require just funding. Our children are our future and if we do not commit to looking after their mental health now we could potentially be allowing for far larger problems to develop later on in their lives.