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Young People’s Mental Health Services

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2021

5. What steps he is taking to reduce waiting lists for (a) children and adolescent mental health services and (b) other mental health services for young people. (904299)

We are committed to ensuring that children and young people get the mental health support that they need. That is why we are expanding mental health services through the NHS long-term plan so that 345,000 more children and young people a year have access to services by 2023-24. This year the Government and the NHS, under NHS England, have provided an additional £109 million on top of long-term planned funding. This additional funding will allow 22,500 more children and young people to access community health services this year, earlier than planned, and that will accelerate the roll-out of mental health support teams in schools and colleges.

In West Berkshire, a family seeking a child and adolescent mental health services diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can face a waiting time of up to two years. The Berkshire West clinical commissioning group has recently made £1.6 million available to recruit extra staff, but when I spoke to it, I was struck by the absence of any hard targets to reduce waiting lists and any consequences if it fails to deliver. These waiting times are causing misery to my affected constituents, so can my hon. Friend say what steps can be taken to ensure accountability in the provision of this service, and will she meet me to discuss waiting times in West Berkshire?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern that waits for autism assessments and diagnosis are often way too long, and that is why we are investing an additional £13 million of funding this year. That funding will allow local systems to test different diagnostic pathways—including working on a multi-disciplinary basis, which will shorten the diagnosis time—and to find new solutions for addressing long waits. The precise allocation of funding for diagnostic pathways are decisions made at the local level, and those should be compliant with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. NHS England is working with local systems to evaluate what works well. Since November 2019, we have been reporting on waiting times between referral and first assessment, and that is important, because we use that to drive up local performance. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.

When the Government talk about waiting times, they refer to how long it takes simply to get an assessment, and not to when treatment may start. Most children face an incredibly long wait after that first step, or even have their referral closed. The real truth is revealed when we look at how long it takes for children to complete treatment. In Yorkshire and the Humber, it took one child more than 13 years to complete treatment for their anxiety. In the north-west, some children took three years to complete treatment for eating disorders. In the midlands, it is not uncommon for treatment completion to take five years. Will the Minister commit, as we have, to the provision of a counsellor in every school, a mental health access hub in every single community and regular mental health assessments for children in all key stages?

We know that the prevalence of children and young people with a mental health condition has increased—in some cases, it has increased massively. That is why we remain committed to increasing investment through the long-term plan. Also, we have consulted on the potential to introduce five new waiting times standards, including for children and young people and their families and carers presenting to community-based mental health services. In addition, NHS England and NHS Improvement have announced an additional £40 million to address the impact of covid on children and young people’s mental health, including for eating disorders. Since 2014, extra funding has been going into children and young people’s community eating disorder services every year, but we know that we have more to do. This extra funding will enhance the development of more than 70 new and improved community eating disorder teams, but there is no doubt that there is much to catch up on. We are also introducing services into schools for young people.

When the chief inspector of hospitals placed St George’s in Tooting into special measures, he warned that the

“emergency department was not large enough for the number of patients that passed through it and privacy and dignity were compromised.”

Given the report by the British Red Cross in this morning’s edition of The Times highlighting the causal link between A&E attendance and deprivation, does the Minister understand the further huge impact that moving acute services from St Helier to wealthy, healthy Belmont will have on A&E attendances at St George’s?

I can answer the hon. Lady’s supplementary question, but would it be in order for me to answer her tabled question and then the supplementary?