'Crisis situation' - call to cut youth mental health support waiting lists

Mental health campaigner Anne Humphrys

Mental health campaigner Anne Humphrys - Credit: Anne Humphrys

Support organisations in Suffolk have voiced fears over long waiting lists for young people's mental health services and called for action to prevent future tragedies.

And MP Dr Dan Poulter said there was still "a long way to go" to cut waiting times for what had been a "Cinderella service".

Dr Dan Poulter said people in Suffolk should work together to ensure the county continues to respond

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter, who works in mental health services - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Concerns have been raised recently about the pandemic's impact on the mental health of youngsters, and the latest comments also follow two tragedies in the Ipswich area.

A 17-year-old boy was found in the River Orwell on Tuesday morning, and a 16-year-old boy died in March after falling from the railway viaduct in Spring Road, Ipswich. 

Circumstances around both cases are unknown, and inquests will be held in due course.

Anne Humphrys, co-chair of Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN), said: "This is a crisis situation and, despite additional resources already committed to reduce waiting times, the services are still unable to meet current demand.

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"We are calling upon those who can make a change, to do so urgently and SPCN desperately hopes this will happen sooner rather than later."

She said this would help to prevent future tragedies.

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Mrs Humphrys said there were long waiting lists for accessing support from Suffolk's Children and Young People's Emotional Wellbeing Hub, and families were often having to provide 'wrap-around support' themselves without professional advice.

"The current system simply can’t cope with the unprecedented increasing demand for mental health support."

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter, who works in mental health services, said: "It has unfortunately been the case that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have for many years been a 'Cinderella service' when it comes to mental health provision."

He said there had been progress in Suffolk and Norfolk, with more staff being appointed, but added: "There is still a long way to go."

Young people experiencing mental health challenges are facing long waits for support

Young people experiencing mental health challenges are facing long waits for support - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

"If we continue making the current progress, we will be in a better place in about six months to a year," Dr Poulter added. 

He also called for more proactive mental health liaison with schools, as they are often well placed to pick up on young people who are experiencing mental health challenges. 

Everett O'Donoghue, Suffolk's young people's mental health champion, said: "One of the main things we hear young people, and their families speak about are the waiting lists.

"Many can be stuck on these for well over a year, some much longer if you are seeking any sort of specialist assessment or therapy, often without knowing if the outcome to this assessment will provide any clarity, or that the therapy will be right for them.

"If they do not receive the correct treatment or answers, it’s usually right back to the start with no acceptable alternative pathway. It can be an incredibly demoralising cycle that some people are stuck in for years.”

Jo Flack, of The ACE Project, will be one of the speakers at the event

Jo Flack of The ACE Project - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Jo Flack, of The ACE Project, which supports young people in Suffolk to help them achieve wellbeing, said the NHS was usually very good at getting back to a young person after an initial contact and discussing what support they need.

But she said the young people then often waited for several months, or even up to a year, to access the services.

"When people have become that distressed, they can't wait that long for support." 

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups said in a statement: “Covid-19 has presented some very big challenges and the waiting times for the assessment and treatment for young people’s mental health services has subsequently increased, including a steady rise in referrals to the emotional wellbeing hub.

“We have already increased staff numbers working at the hub and plan further recruitment to tackle the backlog to ensure initial assessment is as swift as possible.

“Extra investment is also planned by commissioners to boost treatment and support times, such as an extra £500,000 for eating disorder services.

“We’re working closely with our health and care partners, including Suffolk Parent Carer Network and Suffolk User Forum, with the aim of ensuring every young person who needs mental wellbeing support can access it as quickly as possible.”

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