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Surrey Children Waited Up To 13 Months for Mental Health Support Before Covid Pandemic

Published on: 31 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 31 Jul, 2021

Children with mental health issues can wait over a year before seeing a specialist. Image Prexel

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Children in Surrey were waiting well over a year to see a mental health specialist – and that was before the coronavirus pandemic fully hit.

Some waited as long as 402 days while struggling with their mental wellbeing in 2019/20, according to a Freedom of Information request made by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

This is well over three times the NHS maximum waiting time for non-urgent, consultant-led treatments of 126 days.

One in five – more than 2,450 young people – had to wait longer than the recommended four weeks to access the specialist services, which includes help for sexual trauma recovery and eating disorders.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “Long waits can impact both clinically and on the individual waiting for treatment.”

The NHS committed that by 2020/21, 95% of children and young people referred for assessment or treatment for an eating disorder should receive it within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for every other case.

Figures for this year were not provided by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SABP) – who deliver Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – because the request to release information was made before the end of the financial year.

Cllr Tim Oliver

Cllr Tim Oliver, who chairs Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System which commissions NHS services, said he was not going to make excuses for SABP.

“A complete recognition CAMHS is not working,” he said. “I have expressed my frustration, it is a longstanding area of concern.”

He said an extra £6 million was being put into CAMHS over the next seven years and part of Surrey council’s half will fund new mental health advisors in schools “so we can prevent people from falling into a long-term condition”.

“We need to put more money in to get the system moving,” he said. “If you’re not being assessed for years your condition is going to deteriorate, and then you’ll need more medicalised solutions.”

This April they awarded a new CAMHS contract, to SABP working in an Alliance with partners North London based Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Barnardo’s, Learning Space, The National Autistic Society and The Surrey Wellbeing Partnership.

SABP was supposed to clear its waiting list before the Alliance took over.

Though it did not achieve this it made some progress, managing to cut its average waiting time in half, from 118 days in 2019/20 to 60 days in 2020/21.

Young people in 2018/19 were waiting 97 days – in 2019/20 the wait time was longer even though the number of referrals had fallen by 3.4 per cent, to just over 12,000 children.

A spokesperson for SABP said they had taken action over the last year: “The trust brought in additional staff and made significant organisational team changes, including creating dedicated assessment and urgent care teams, which meant children and young people could be seen earlier.

“Proactively taking these steps, combined with a slight drop in referrals, saw waiting times reduced.

“We would reiterate that our crisis and urgent referrals are seen without delay.”

Dr Rachel Hennessy, deputy medical director at SABP, said: “We work together with our partners to ensure all children and young people urgently referred to our specialist services, including our Eating Disorders Service, are seen as quickly as possible.

“Improving the experiences and outcomes for children and young people with emotional wellbeing and mental health needs remains our priority.”

The trust said they “don’t currently have the maximum waiting time data”.

They said the young people waiting the longest tend to be those seeking neurodevelopmental diagnosis, including autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.

Lance Spencer, councillor for Goldsworth East and Horsell Village, asked at this month’s Surrey County Council meeting if wait times had increased since the closure of many Sure Start centres, which provide advice and support on mental health and wellbeing as well as parenting courses and more.

Closing 37 of the county’s 58 centres, now referred to as family centres, saved Surrey £3.4 million between 2019-2021.

Just over a quarter of referrals to CAMHS for help in 2019/20 were for children aged 5-9, while 134 were just four years old and under.

“It’s clear that the closure of Sure Start centres will inevitably lead to an increase in demand for mental health services,” said Cllr Spencer.

Cllr Clare Curran, cabinet member for children and families, did not agree.

She said: “Sure Start centres are there for young families and the work that is done around young people and emotional health and wellbeing is delivered in a different fashion through our youth havens, our youth workers, in our schools.”

The CYP Havens, a safe space where young people can talk about their worries, can be accessed by phone on 01483 519436 Mon-Fri 4-8.30pm and Sat-Sun 12-6pm.

There is also a 24/7 helpline for children and young people experiencing a mental health crisis, and their families. Call 0800 915 4644 or text 07717 989024.

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