Child mental health services ‘significantly underfunded’

Psychiatrists are calling for more funding for services for children and young people.

Child mental health services ‘significantly underfunded’ Getty Images
Mental health services: 'Significantly underfunded'.

Psychiatrists are calling for more funding for services for children and young people as they warn the country could be facing a mental health emergency.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) in Scotland said it has seen a significant rise in referrals to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) during the coronavirus pandemic, but there is a “significant lack of funding” for them.

More than eight in 10 (84%) of the 76 child and adolescent psychiatrists who responded to a recent RCPsych in Scotland poll said CAMHS services are very insufficiently or insufficiently resourced, while 43% said they are poorly staffed.

The poll also found 57% of respondents feel the level of need for mental health services has significantly increased during the pandemic, and 47% said there has been a significant rise in waiting times for appointments.

Meanwhile, 63% said the pandemic has had a very negative impact on the wellbeing of children and young people, and 56% believe the impact has been very negative on those with learning difficulties.

RCPsych in Scotland is now calling on the Scottish Government to commit 1% of its health budget to CAMHS services by 2026.

Dr Helen Smith, chair of the children and adolescent faculty at RCPsych in Scotland, said: “During the pandemic we’ve seen a rise in the number of referrals for CAMHS services, but the truth is these services were already under-resourced, understaffed and short-changed before the Covid-19 crisis hit.

“We do not know how the Scottish Government expects us to keep meeting the increased demand for support without increasing the capacity of services.

“There are also concerns that the wellbeing framework for schools is not being implemented quickly enough to meet the difficulties expressed by young people.

“Our poll highlights a significant lack of funding for CAMHS services. What we have is a potential mental health emergency on our hands which will burden future generations.

“We need CAMHS to be seriously acknowledged. Funding must be looked at for the sake of our children and young people.”

The survey, conducted between January 25 and February 1, found 44% of respondents agree schools are not properly linked up with community and specialist mental health support services.

RCPsych in Scotland’s call for more funding comes during Children’s Mental Health Week.

The draft Scottish Budget announced last week includes £1.1bn for mental health services, however RCPsych in Scotland said there is no guarantee CAMHS will receive more than its current share of 0.56% of health spending.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have been working closely with all Boards to plan the recovery of CAMHS services across Scotland and to help individual NHS Boards respond effectively to the anticipated increase in demand in the months ahead.”In 2021-22, Scottish Government direct investment in mental health will increase by nearly 19% to £139m and will support overall spending on mental health in excess of £1.1bn.

“Funding for frontline NHS boards will increase to £11.6bn in 2021-22 and NHS boards will work with their partners to make local spending decisions on mental health that reflect local needs and national priorities, including for children and young people.

“We also recognise that not all children and young people need specialist services like CAMHS, which is why we have provided an additional £15m to local authorities to respond to children and young people’s mental health issues, with a focus on those brought about by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Part of this funding will also support local authorities to develop and implement community mental health and wellbeing services and supports.

“These new support services will be available for five to 25-year-olds, their families and carers. This is the start of a long term commitment to provide a new type of mental health support alongside psychological services provided through CAMHS.

“This funding is in addition to ongoing annual funding to support the recruitment of an additional 80 mental health professionals to work with children and young people in CAMHS services across Scotland, and our recent announcement of a further £3.6m to help provide more than 80 additional counsellors in every college and university in Scotland over the next four years. We are also ensuring that every secondary school will have access to a counsellor.”