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Waiting lists for children’s mental health care soaring in Sheffield

Children and young people are now waiting almost 9 months to be assessed by CAMHS in Sheffield. 

A large brick building with a car park in front of it.

Centenary House Community CAMHS on Albert Terrace Road, Upperthorpe

Mick Knapton

When children and young people are struggling with their mental health, they need to be quickly assessed by a specialist so that appropriate treatment and support can begin.

In Sheffield in 2018, young people and children waited 8 weeks from being referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to being assessed.

Earlier this year, that wait had increased to 38 weeks, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

CAMHS in Sheffield, part of Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, take referrals for young people experiencing difficulties including:

  • Anxiety, anger and aggression
  • Deliberate self-harm
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Psychosis
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This list also includes autism and ADHD, which are increasingly understood to be neurodivergence rather than mental illness, but are conditions where delayed diagnosis and support can have serious long-term consequences.

The illnesses mentioned above all have the potential to be very serious and have an impact on a young person’s wellbeing and education, so having to wait for almost 9 months before even being assessed is causing additional stress to too many young people and their families.

Mental health charity YoungMinds carried out a survey with over 14,000 young people and found that:

More than one in four young people (26 per cent) said they had tried to take their own life as a result of having to wait for mental health support. More than four in ten (44 per cent) waited more than a month for mental health support after seeking it and almost one in 10 (9 per cent) young people were turned away.

More than half of young people (58%) said their mental health got worse while they were waiting for support.

The additional distress that a young person experiences due to these delays should be reason enough for the government to end its chronic underfunding of the NHS, CAMHS included, but in case you need an economic justification to improve the situation for young people experiencing conditions as serious as PTSD, OCD, eating disorders and psychosis, Pro Bono Economics calculated the costs to society of long waiting lists:

  • The untreated mental health issues for these children and young people whilst on waiting lists are expected to cost public services an estimated £75m per year, the equivalent of around £200 per child receiving treatment
  • However, an estimated 87,000 (23%) of these children have to wait more than 12 weeks, costing other public services an average of nearly £500 per child
  • More than 90% of these costs are incurred by schools, with the remainder falling to social care and other health services

It is important to note that Pro Bono Economics' data is based on waiting lists of 7 weeks, not the devastating 38 weeks young people in Sheffield are currently seeing. And they believe that their analysis is likely to be on the conservative side of things.

This demonstrates that one issue of vulnerability or marginalisation can never be looked at in isolation. When children and young people are treated with respect and given the support they need, their lives have the potential to really improve, which benefits everybody.

No person exists in isolation, nor can we as a society pretend that this is an isolated problem. When services that would support marginalised people are undervalued, just as things that exacerbate distress – poverty, racism, and impending climate doom, for instance – get worse, we have to accept that systemic vulnerabilities are being baked in, and the people in government are not giving any indication that they care.

Craig Radford, Chief Operating Officer at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust said:

Due to a range of factors facing young people, demand for mental health service has increased significantly over the past few years. The recent pandemic has seen a 30% increase in referrals to our community mental health services. This also points to a greater awareness of mental health and reducing stigma in people seeking support.

At Sheffield Children’s we understand that long waits for our services can be frustrating for families. In light of this we constantly review our waiting lists based upon clinical risk. This is an issue we are taking very seriously, and recent investments into Community CAMHS are showing early signs of effecting a fall in waiting times. We have also introduced a range of early interventions to provide support and resources designed to help young people with their mental health and avoid the need for assessment.

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