New funding is to be ploughed into mental health services for children and young people as services face a rise in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
NHS England said that young people had been “hit hard” by the Covid-19 crisis as it announced a £40 million funding boost for services.
The money will be used for a number of schemes including action to prevent children being shipped miles away when a mental health hospital bed is not available in their area.
It will also help enhance community care to try and prevent hospital admissions and bolster eating disorder services.
It comes after the Centre for Mental Health estimated that up to 1.5 million children and young people in England will require mental health support as a direct impact of the pandemic during the next three to five years.
The NHS said that across England £10 million capital funding is being used to provide extra beds at units which provide care for young people with the most complex needs, including eating disorders.
Meanwhile £1.5 million will be used to ensure there are additional facilities for children under 13.
Money will also be used to train staff working with children with mental health issues on children’s wards to ensure they have the skills to manage mental health conditions even if they are not specialist mental health staff.
Staff working with children and young people with eating disorders will also get additional specialist feeding training.
The money will also help enhance out-of-hospital care for those with mental health issues, the NHS said.
Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS in England, said: “This pandemic has hit our young people hard and while services have remained open throughout, we have seen an increase in the numbers of children and young people seeking help from the NHS for their mental health.
“This additional funding is in recognition of the rising demand and our continued commitment to provide the best care as early as possible and to do as much to prevent children and young people needing hospital treatment as we do to ensure that when they are in hospital they receive the right treatment before being supported back at home.”
Mental health minister Nadine Dorries said: “Children and young people have been uniquely challenged by the events of the past year-and-a-half. We remain absolutely committed to supporting them through this pandemic and beyond, ensuring they have access to the tools and support they need to stay mentally well.
“While children can be very resilient, crises can have a huge impact on their mental health and we must continue to ensure they can access help if they need it.
“This funding boost builds on the £79 million previously announced as part of our Mental Health Recovery Action Plan, to expand children’s mental health services and open up eating disorder services to an extra 2,000 young people.”
Research conducted in 2020 by the Office for National Statistics and others found that one in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a “probable mental disorder”.
This was a significant rise from three years previously when it was estimated that one in nine children were identified as having a probable mental disorder.
Commenting on the funding boost, Andy Bell, deputy chief executive for the Centre for Mental Health said: “We welcome extra funding for children’s mental health services at this crucial time.
“Eating disorder services in particular have seen a marked rise in referrals in recent months.
“We expect many more children and young people will need mental health support as a result of the pandemic.
“While today’s announcement will help to close the gap, we need a much bigger focus on early help for children, young people and families. And we need to help schools and communities to prevent children’s needs from escalating to the point where they need care in a crisis.”