In a climate of deepening NHS crisis, it is heartening news that the PM is talking about making an investment in mental health services and even addressing the issue of ‘parity’. Whether or not it is a question of ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ parity, one certainty is the fact that there needs to be new Treasury money for these investment plans. Professor Sir Simon Wessely, Regis Professor of Psychiatry at the Royal College Of Psychiatrists states that there is a need for more specialist mental health workers, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, nurses etc. “We have a long way to go before mental health services are on an equal footing with those for physical disorders.”
The reality is that almost 250,000 children and young people and children aged 18 and under receive treatment by specialist NHS support services each month and this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) account for just 0.7% of NHS spending and approximately 6.4% of mental health spending, therefore Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) will be using some of the 1.4 billion that has been allocated by ministers to improve mental health services for young people. Some mental health charities argue that just how much of this funding actually reaches frontline services is debatable. It is a great pledge, but the capacity for CAMHS to provide support is limited because their services are already overstretched with long waiting lists and high threshold levels for treatment which means that many children are being turned away from services.
Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary has said that care for children and young people is a “black spot” needing urgent attention as the pressures of social media, cyber bullying and a big increase in self-harming is a “massive worry for parents”. He pledges that he will improve diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions and put specialists in schools with a proposal that CAMHS and schools work closely together and for more schools to have a CAMHS specialist.
The Mental health charity Sane states that these plans need to “be matched by substantially increased funds to mental health trusts”. Mind said it is “important to see the prime minister talking about mental health” but the difference it made to patients’ day-to-day experiences would be proof.
Teresa May has pledged to help CAMHS by investing £250 million more and by offering mental health first aid training to teachers to recognise symptoms of distress. This puts teachers on the frontline when they already have heavy workloads and are driven by a target led culture that is judged by rigorous observations and inspections. The prospect of Ofsted monitored mental health support provided by schools adds further pressure. An outcome of outstanding, good or requiring improvement is not an appropriate approach to dealing with young people’s mental health issues. The focus needs to be entirely on recognition and sensitive understanding of the needs of the individual child and young person and how they are rapidly going to get the vital support required before self-harm occurs.
Recognition of mental health disorders can require a trained eye and skilled personnel are able to recognise and deal with mental health issues to ensure clear and rapid signposting to the relevant service.