Access and waiting times in children and young people’s mental health services

This report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) examines new data on access to specialist treatment for children and young people with mental health problems, and the waiting times they face. This was obtained by EPI through a Freedom of Information request. The report finds that children with mental health problems face barriers when seeking access to mental health services – with over a quarter (26.3 per cent) of children referred to specialist services turned away in 2016-17. This figure has scarcely changed since last year, and represents a significant rise since 2012-13, when 21.1 per cent of young people were turned away.

Overall waiting times (including both assessment and treatment) have fallen – yet there remains substantial variation across England. The average of all providers’ median waiting times for assessment has fallen from 39 days in 2015-16 to 33 days in 2016-17. A similar trend exists for young people waiting for treatment, with average waiting times falling from 67 to 56 days. Such progress could be the result of additional government funding targeted at children’s mental health services.

The report calls for greater accessibility with government information on access and waiting times for children, as well as the standardisation of data collection – in order to increase transparency, and improve evaluation of NHS performance. In addition, high thresholds applied by providers for accepting children highlight the need to expand overall capacity for specialist services in England. It also calls for measures to provide early intervention in schools, and to equip teachers with sufficient training and skills. Lastly, in light of the wide regional variation for young people in waiting for access to mental health treatment, the report forwards the case for the establishment of national waiting time standards.

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