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Child/Adolescent Psychiatric Services (North-West)

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

9. How long the average waiting time for accessing child and adolescent psychiatric services in the north-west is. (255403)

Information from the annual children and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—mapping exercise, conducted by Durham university for the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, indicates that NHS trusts in the North West Strategic Health Authority have waiting times for CAMHS that are better than average. During 2007-08, 91.6 per cent. of new referrals for CAMHS were seen within 13 weeks in the North West SHA area, compared with 87.4 per cent. in all strategic health authorities.

I have a letter from a whistleblower who alleges a serious scandal in the north-west, citing CAMHS waiting lists of one year for serious and complex tier 3 needs, a lack of resources, a shortage of in-patient beds, and looked-after children being dumped in private homes. May I ask the Minister seriously to look further into the information that he has and to check its accuracy?

I will certainly take away the information that the hon. Gentleman has presented this afternoon and respond to him in due course. I am aware that one of his constituents had to wait 12 months for referral to the children and family services. I understand that Sefton primary care trust is now working with Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust to introduce waiting time initiatives to ensure that the PCT in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency meets the waiting-time targets across the borough. That includes extra temporary staff and introducing “choice and partnership”—a new system for the management and referral of patients. The hon. Gentleman has raised a serious point on the Floor of the House; I will take it away and write to him in due course.

The early intervention of child and adolescent mental health services is as serious an issue in the north-west as it is for the rest of the UK, as failure to access child and adolescent mental health services can lead to long-term mental health problems for youngsters. We know that between 10 and 20 per cent. of young people will have such long-term difficulties, which can lead to suicide, long-term mental health problems and self-medication with drugs and alcohol, so will my hon. Friend agree to look seriously at how we can bring about improvements to child and adolescent mental health services across the UK?

Order. The hon. Lady linked her question to the north-west, and she was entitled to raise it. It was a wee bit long for a supplementary; perhaps we could cut the supplementaries down a little.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) has raised the concerns in her constituency on many occasions both inside and outside the House. I am grateful and pleased that, so far as I am aware, all of them are not replicated in the north-west. I agree that gaining earlier access to services for children and adolescents with mental health problems is a serious matter. We have undertaken a review of this country’s child and adolescent mental health services; funding went up from £322 million in 2003-04 to £523 million in 2006-07, and there has been a significant fall in the number of people waiting, along with shorter waiting times for CAMHS. However, there is more to be done and the Department will make sure that we press forward on these issues because our children and young people deserve the best mental health service that we can provide.

How can the Minister justify the fact that someone with a physical health condition will have an operation within 18 weeks of referral from a GP, whereas someone suffering from a mental health condition can find themselves waiting—as my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) said, in the north-west and in many other parts of the country—sometimes more than a year for cognitive behaviour therapy and other NICE-approved therapies, particularly when we know that early intervention is very important in aiding recovery? Is it not about time that we ended this discrimination in the health service—for that is what it is—and ensured that people with mental health problems had an entitlement to access treatment?

The hon. Gentleman will know that over the next 12 months we are launching the “new horizons” project, which is our strategy to take mental health services forward. He and I have appeared on many platforms together, celebrating the significant improvements in mental health services, as major investment means that we have many more psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses than we have ever had before. The real challenge in front of us, however, is not only to ensure that we maintain that improvement in mental health services, but to challenge the wider stigma and discrimination attached to people who have mental health problems. That means bringing about a cultural shift so that we not only continue to improve mental health services by putting in investment, as we have over the last 10 years, but move forward towards genuinely healthy communities, which means mentally healthy communities. We need to take away and end the stigma currently attached to people who suffer from mental health problems.

The figures for the north-west are, like those for the rest of the country, truly shocking, with one in 10 five to 16-year-olds having a clinically significant mental health problem, including anorexia, anxiety and depression—one in 10: the numbers are huge. Furthermore the use of anti-depressants on children has increased 38 per cent. over the past 10 years. These shocking figures clearly demonstrate the failure of our child and adolescent mental health services. Although I welcome the Government’s attempts to do something about it, the Minister should, to be fair, admit that children and adolescents have been failed over the past 11 years and that we are now seeing the results in the increase in the mental health problems of young adults.

No, I do not accept that the Government have failed. What I do accept is that there has been a significant increase in funding for children’s and adolescents’ mental health services, from £322 million in 2003-04 to £523 million—half a billion pounds—in 2006-07. That has produced a fall in the number of children and young people waiting to be seen, and it has reduced waiting times. Nevertheless, there is clearly more to be done. That is why we instigated the review, that is why are setting up a new national advisory council, that is why we are setting up a national support programme, and that is why we are driving forward changes up and down the country to ensure that children and adolescents with mental health problems—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady says, from a sedentary position, “Eleven years”. I can remember the 18 years of a Conservative Government who failed to invest a single penny in children’s and adolescents’ health services.