An MP has described how parents and grandparents have been left “bawling” while waiting for up to four years for initial mental health assessments for children.
Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury, said that every week she is contacted by a constituent who is struggling to get support from their local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
She said that a wait of two to four years is a “lifetime” for parents who fear their child could be suicidal.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health, acknowledged that there is a “real challenge” in services for children and young people.
Ms Duffield, who sits on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which is examining rural mental health, said: “I’ve been an MP for five years and we have MP surgeries every week, I have never held a surgery where I don’t have a parent and a grandparent bawling their eyes out because they cannot get an appointment with CAMHS for an initial assessment for two to four years.
“And we’re talking about a condition like ASD (autism spectrum disorder), which the school recognises and is absolutely desperate to get help with.
“You’ve just painted this sort of paradise looking picture of what you want it to be like, none of that relates to what my constituents go through – some of them have suicidal children.
“None of the head teachers I speak to have this access and fast access to CAMHS you’ve mentioned, what’s going on? Is it just my area or is it everybody that has got this crisis?”
Ms Murdoch told the Committee: “We have a real challenge in children and young people’s mental health services.”
She added: “At the beginning of the life of the Long Term Plan, we modelled what access and need was nationally, and we saw that one in four children and young people that needed access to specialist services, were getting it.
“If one in four young children or young people was getting access to diabetes services that needed it, there would be outrage, and I want everyone to be outraged. It’s not good enough.
“So the whole point of the plan is to close that treatment gap.”
She added: “There will be mental health support teams in the schools in your area, there will be other advances… we’re seeing 170,000 more children and young people this year than we were last year.
“We’ve grown the CAMHS workforce by 40%.
“But is that treatment gap unacceptable? Do we need a plan for the next five years as well? Do we need another 40% growth in workforce? Do we need 100% of schools with mental health support teams in them? The answer to all of those things is yes.
“So if I get the impression of something rosy I’m sorry. But what I can say is that we absolutely are seeing more children and young people and in fact more adults than ever before.
“And we’ve got a range of services that didn’t exist five years ago, but we do need to make the next five year plan now because the next two years will go quickly.”
Ms Duffield added: “That sounds really good but If you are a parent who has waited between two and four years, and you’ve got a 12 or 13- year-old who you think is possibly suicidal, that’s a lifetime.”
Ms Murdoch also told the committee: “I don’t think we can be complacent for one moment, when it comes to mental health.”