The number of referrals to specialist children’s mental health services has increased by 26 per cent over the last five years. But rejection rates remain high: as many as one in four children referred to specialist mental health services were rejected in 2017/18. Waiting times are far longer than the government’s ambition of 4 weeks. As well as the effect on individuals, failure to address these challenges will present significant long-term economic impacts.
Whilst any commitment to increased staffing, support or funding has the capacity to be positive, all parties have failed to sufficiently recognise the broader problems within children and young people’s mental health. A piecemeal approach of targeting certain areas of the system is unlikely to be effective without an overarching strategy where every area of the sector, including areas outside the formal health and education system, such as LAs, is held accountable.
The Conservative manifesto has mentioned little in terms of concrete policy changes linked specifically to children and young people’s mental health, particularly with regards to funding and national targets. A lack of changes to national targets is likely to continue to leave larger levels of unmet need. There is little discussion of early intervention, and the possibility that child poverty rates would increase is concerning due to its effect on prevalence.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are more explicit in their funding strategies and appear to pledge additional funding for mental health, although both are unclear on ring-fencing and how this will be shared within the system, meaning more detail is needed to assess the effect of this upon the system. In particular, it is important to know how this funding is split between acute care and early intervention or preventative measures and the targets and accountability for these measures. The lack of a specific workforce policy from any party is concerning.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats both have specific policies for mental health within schools which is positive, and recognise the importance of both mental health professionals in these settings and wider workforce being skilled in mental health.
The Green party’s commitment to a target of 28 days for access to evidence-based mental health therapies is positive, but without specific policies on funding or the workforce, this is likely to be challenging to achieve. A lack of focus on early intervention means the system would remain skewed towards responding to high prevalence rates of illness, as opposed to reducing these rates.
The Brexit Party at no point discuss mental health in their election contract.
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