GPs demand faster CAMHS access as mental illness soars in young people

GPs need 'far better access' to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), the RCGP has said, after a report found prevalence of mental illness in young people rose six-fold in just two decades.

Mental health conditions in young people have risen (Photo: iStock)

The RCGP called for better GP access to expert mental health services after a Nuffield Trust report found initiatives to promote access to CAMHS may be ‘ineffective’ without adequate funding.

The report found that almost one in 20 people aged 4-24 years old in England described themselves as having a mental health condition. It says:  ‘In the UK, demand for counselling services, hospital admissions for self-harm and referrals to specialist CAMHS have all increased significantly for this age group in recent years.

‘The growing burden of mental health problems faced by children and young people, both in absolute terms, and as a proportion of all long-standing health conditions (mental and physical) reinforces the growing demand for CAMHS services, which is already posing an important challenge for UK health services and policymakers.’

Mental health

It also found that long-standing mental health conditions more than doubled in people aged 4-24 in Scotland over an 11-year period and increased by more than half in Wales in just seven years.

This findings follow a report published by the CQC last year that found young people were struggling to get ‘timely support’ for mental health.

Dr Dougal Hargreaves, an Imperial College London academic and visiting research analyst at the Nuffield Trust, said the findings could point to a widening gap between the mental health needs of children and young people and the services available.

He said: ‘We know that there is already a growing crisis in the availability of CAMHS, with many more children and young people needing treatment than there are services to provide it. Our study suggests that this need is likely to continue to grow in future. Without more radical action to improve access to and funding for CAMHS, as well as a wider strategy to promote positive mental health and wellbeing, we may be letting down some of the most vulnerable in society.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that the figures could be seen as a positive because increased reporting may reflect stigma around mental health issues being broken down. But she warned they undoubtedly highlight a need for better access to CAMHS.

CAMHS access

‘As well as any obvious physical symptoms, GPs will always try to take into account the social and psychological factors of the person sitting in front of them, but these can be complicated and often require much longer than the standard 10-minute consultation,’ she said.

‘Outside of the surgery, GPs also need far better access to local mental health services. While medication can play a part in helping some patients living with mental health illnesses, prescribing for younger people with mental health problems is a specialist area, and the evidence shows that treatments, such as CBT and talking therapies, are preferable.

‘It is vital that GPs are able to swiftly refer on younger people to responsive, well-resourced specialist services and that the NHS is able to offer the most appropriate care, in the community.’

NHS England’s GP Forward View pledged that every GP practice in England will have access to one of 3,000 new mental health therapists by 2020/21. ‘We need this to be delivered in full, and as a matter of urgency,’ Professor Stokes-Lampard said.

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