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  • Writer's pictureHealthwatch Reading

Warning over children's mental health services

Long waiting times are impacting on children and young people, a local meeting has heard.

Children’s mental health services are “failing in a way that is different and more dangerous than those for adults”, according to a local patient representative.

Children and young people are often waiting a year for treatment, even when they are experiencing acute anxiety, having suicidal feelings and missing school, said Tom Lake, information officer at South Reading Patient Voice group.

He added that children didn’t have the same easy access to services such as Talking Therapies for adults and some children missed school-based support if they were not attending due to their health issues.

Even if we acknowledge that the present situation is much heightened by the pandemic and its effects on children, should there not be an immediate investigation into this dangerous situation and an urgent review of the commissioning of mental health services for children and young people? — Tom Lake, also an elected governor of Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs children's mental health services.

Responding to Mr Lake’s call, made at the Reading Health and Wellbeing Board on 18 March, board vice-chairman and local GP Dr Andy Ciecierski, acknowledged that "waiting times to access both assessment and treatment from specialist CAMHS remain higher than acceptable across the country and the situation in Berkshire is no different".

However, he said support was available for children and young people such as:

  • NHS and Reading Borough Council-funded counselling from the charity No5 Young People, via self-referral, or referrals by schools, GPs or other professionals

  • NHS and council-funded online support, from Kooth, a digital platform available 24/7, even for children not in school

  • NHS-funded mental health support teams to offer school-based help

  • Autism Berkshire advice and support, funded by the NHS.

There are also plans to expand staff in Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and to expand crisis services for young people.

“However, our ambition is being challenged by two factors,” said Dr Ciecierski – a steep increase in urgent referrals, up from 13% to 30% and workforce shortages, with many staff leaving the mental health speciality altogether.

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