Vulnerable children

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Sheffield Children’s NHS Services aims to offer an appointment to a young person and their family within six weeks of a referral. The reality is very different, with a wait of up to a year for children with significant mental health problems to see a specialist.

Children are being failed by this service: an adolescent boy with severe anxiety, acute migraines, unable to attend school, had to wait eight months to see a specialist. Another family was told their seven-year- old girl who self-harms was to be discharged as they could no longer treat her, due to budget cuts.

Another parent, after waiting six months for cognitive therapy for her daughter, was told this service could no longer be offered due to cuts. A GP told a parent that her child who exhibited severe stress and depression, there was a 15 month waiting list.

Sheffield, which ranks third highest for budget cuts to CAMHS (16%), is jointly commissioned by the NHS and council. The latter’s funding comes out of the Early Intervention Grant which the Government cut by 11%. This money is not ring-fenced and CAMHS has been a casualty of council cuts for two years in a row.

In July 2010 it saw an £180,000 cut as the council responded to demands for savings. The 2011/12 budget saw funding for primary mental health services cut completely. CAMHS funding has been cut by more than 50% since April 2010.

It is not possible to quantify the proportion of NHS funding lost. But during 2010 posts in CAMHS were not filled in anticipation of cuts. Last August, one of three community sector teams closed and waiting list redistributed between the remaining two teams.

Waiting lists of children referred for assessment and treatment have steadily risen. A child referred in November 2010 was expected to wait up to seven months. Last April, it was eight months for a first appointment. Now we are told the wait is 15 months.

Since early last year, we have been told that teams will be available to support children with ‘less significant’ problems, but training doesn’t seem to have been provided.

We question whether these staff would have the correct training to support children. Is a child who self harms considered to be a child with ‘less significant’ mental health problems?

We would like the PCT and the council to review services for children with mental health problems and ensure funding is at a sufficient level to provide support for a vulnerable section.

Deborah Woodhouse, ACCT co-founder and ACCT campaigner Sheila Cameron