Under-18s being denied urgent mental health treatment, say GPs
Survey reveals only 10% of GPs are confident those they refer for treatment will receive it
Troubled teenagers seeking urgent help from NHS mental health services are being denied treatment or facing months of delays, GPs have said.
Three in four family doctors do not believe under-18s they refer to child and adolescent mental health services will end up being treated, research shows.
In a survey of 1,008 GPs across the UK, 76% said they did not usually feel confident a young person they referred to CAMHS would receive treatment for their illness. Only 10% were confident that treatment would follow.
Many previous reports from parliamentary inquiries, thinktanks and mental health charities have shown CAMHS services often in effect ration care, restricting treatment to only the most unwell, in order to manage the demand.
The findings of the survey, carried out for the charity YoungMinds, have prompted concerns because of the sharp increase in mental health problems among children and young people, which experts have linked to exam stress, social media, body image issues and the effects of dysfunctional backgrounds.
Nine in 10 GPs have seen a rise in the past three years in the number of young people seeking support for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, the survey found. But at the same time, few think a referral to CAMHS will lead to the young person receiving help.
Emma Thomas, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “As these worrying results show, GPs are on the frontline when it comes to mental health. But too often they don’t believe that there is good enough early support in their community.
“That leaves them grappling with the difficult choice of trying to help young people themselves, or referring them to mental health services, even when those services are overstretched.
“This means many young people either receive support from GPs who have the best of intentions but may not feel equipped to provide the right help, or face long waiting times for specialist services, which may then turn them away because of high thresholds for treatment.”
Most GPs feel ill-prepared to help the growing number of under-18s with mental health problems. One in five of those surveyed said they had received enough training to handle mental health issues in young people, but 59% disagreed.
Almost half of the GPs said they often acted beyond their competency by supporting young people with mental health problems.
One GP told YoungMinds: “Mental health is a specialist area, often beyond the scope of a GP, and the resulting rising demand for mental health services is often not being met. In my area, CAMHS is very good for those with severe needs, but they have much less provision for low-intensity services.”
NHS figures show average waiting times to access CAMHS in England have fallen slightly, from 57 days in 2017-18 to 53 days last year. However, that does not include under-18s who were referred but still waiting at the end of the year to hear from the NHS as to when they would be seen.
The number of young people referred to CAMHS rose by 18% from 343,386 in 2017-18 to 405,479 in 2018-19.
Experts believe this dramatic increase is linked to improved data collection and young people’s greater willingness to seek help for their problems, as well as a rising prevalence of mental ill-health.
The survey also found that 77% of GPs think there is too little support in the community, such as youth clubs, local charities and drop-in centres, for young people who are struggling mentally. Only 8% believe there is enough.
Improving services for children and young people with mental health problems in England is a key priority in the NHS long-term plan and an extra 150-180 inpatient beds are being created for the most seriously ill.
NHS England did not comment, blaming the rules governing purdah in pre-general election periods. The Conservative party did not respond to a request for comment.