Surge in children seeking mental health help in Herts Valleys in lead up to coronavirus pandemic

Herts Valleys CCG serves Dacorum, St Albans, Harpenden, Watford, Hertsmere and Three Rivers

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 10:21 am

The number of children and young people referred to mental health services in Herts Valley has increased by more than 40% in a year, figures reveal.

NHS digital data shows that in 2019-20, 6,600 under-18s were referred to mental health services across NHS Herts Valleys CCG.

This was a 43% increase on the previous year, when 4,605 children were referred.

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However, children are waiting less time to access treatment. The average number of waiting days has fallen from 44 to 34.

Of the total number of children referred to mental health services, 1,390 were seen within six weeks – however 250 children had to wait longer than 12 weeks.

There were also 2,300 children who saw their referral being closed before treatment.

These children may not have required specialist treatment, they may have been referred to services funded by non-NHS organisations or chosen not to enter treatment.

The data provided does not specify why a referral was closed.

The Children’s Commissioner is urging the Government to introduce an NHS-funded counsellor for every school among fears that thousands of children are being left without support.

They say there is a lack of ambition in improving children’s mental health services, despite numerous Government announcements.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Even before the Covid pandemic, we faced an epidemic of children’s mental health problems in England and a children’s mental health service that, though improving significantly, was still unable to provide the help hundreds of thousands of children required.

“The Government’s plans must include a rocket boost in funding for children’s mental health, to expand services and eliminate the postcode lottery.

“As an absolute minimum, all schools should be provided with an NHS-funded counsellor, either in school or online.”

The data also shows that NHS Herts Valleys CCG spent around £56 per child on mental health services – the national average is £66.

Across England, 538,564 under-18s were referred to mental health services in 2019-20, 35% more than the previous year.

Councillor Judith Blake, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “The pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health problems, particularly for children living in families with lower incomes and whose parents may be experiencing financial difficulties.

“Local councils have a vital role in helping children have mentally healthy childhoods and mental health needs to be at the heart of a holistic approach to overall health and wellbeing.

“Supporting children early on to reduce the need for clinical interventions means more can receive help when they need it, rather than waiting until they are unwell.

“It is vital that effective and evidence-based mental health and wellbeing services and statutory mental health services for children are able to meet existing, new and unmet demand that has built up during the pandemic.”