More than half of GP referrals to CAMHS services rejected, poll reveals

More than half of 11- to 18-year-old patients referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) by their GP are rejected for treatment, a survey reveals.

GP consultation (Photo: Alistair Berg/Getty Images)

Nearly three quarters (73%) of GPs say CAMHS services have deteriorated over the past year, according to the poll of around 1,000 GPs carried out for mental health charity stem4.

The poll found that 54% of patients aged 11-18 years old referred to CAMHS services by GPs are rejected - despite doctors referring 'only the most at risk' patients. Of those accepted, 28% wait up to 12 months for treatment, while a further 27% wait three to six months.

Just under a third of GPs say they can refer patients rejected for CAMHS treatment to other NHS services such as talking therapies, with many forced to direct patients back to overloaded school or local charity services - and the vast majority of GPs fear patients in this position could come to harm.

Nine out of 10 GPs say mental health services for children and young people are inadequate - although 83% say they now see more young patients with mental health difficulties than they did a year ago.

Mental health services

Consultant clinical psychologist and stem4 founder Dr Nihara Krause said: 'In many local areas talking therapy services have been cut to the bone, or no longer exist. Instead they have been replaced with basic-level trained, mental health practitioners who have limited skills in supporting children beyond signposting or basic counselling for life issues.

'We now have a complete lack of services for children with moderate problems that GPs can refer their patients to. As a consequence, CAHMS is completely overwhelmed with referrals, accepting only the most severe cases, while community and school counsellors are overrun by demand and are not the best equipped to deal with children and young people with diagnosable mental health conditions and complex issues.'

One Yorkshire and Humber GP responding to the poll said: 'I feel I am letting my patients down as they come asking for help, which takes courage, but I know I will have very little to offer them due to impossibility of referring to CAMHS, and lack of local alternatives.'

A GP from the East of England region said 'seeing a psychiatrist is more difficult than seeing the Pope', while another in London said mental health had been 'sacrificed' because of a shortage of overall NHS funding.

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