Thousands of children left in limbo says audit of mental health care

The document reports that children find rejection frustrating and distressing with some believing that they will not be seen unless they are suicidal or at risk of harm. Picture: PA
The document reports that children find rejection frustrating and distressing with some believing that they will not be seen unless they are suicidal or at risk of harm. Picture: PA
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One in five children who seek help from Scotland’s mental health service are rejected for treatment leaving thousands of children in limbo, a new report has disclosed.

An audit of Scotland’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) found that most referrals are rejected without a face-to-face assessment.

The document reports that children find rejection frustrating and distressing with some believing that they will not be seen unless they are suicidal or at risk of harm.

The report includes harrowing first-hand accounts from youngsters contemplating suicide and the impact that failure to get good enough treatment has on their mental health. Anecdotal evidence suggested children who were self-harming were not being dealt with because their condition was not severe enough.

The audit’s findings led to incoming health secretary Jeane Freeman admitting that referrals system was “completely unacceptable”. Yesterday she also announced she would set up a £5 million task force to overhaul CAMHS led by mental health expert Dr Dame Denise Coia.

The research, involving seven of Scotland’s 12 health boards, found that referrals to CAMHS has increased by 20 per cent over three years to 9,000 per quarter.

But the number of children starting treatment had fallen to 15,864 this year from 17,745 the previous year. This year one in five or 20 per cent of referrals had been rejected, despite the number of referrals rising.

The report said: “Many children, young people and their families receive a rejection letter within a very short timescale and feel angry, aggrieved, cheated and let down due to a feeling that no proper assessment process has been undertaken.”

It went on: “Others who do get invited for assessment often believe this is the start of treatment, and are then left feeling in limbo when they are either rejected or then placed on a waiting list to access treatment. “

One parent said the system was failing young people when it took “several months” to hear back from a CAMHS referral. The audit reported a smaller online survey of 253 people, which found that only 31 per cent got a face-to-face assessment. The majoriy were rejected on the basis of a written referral.

A parent claimed their daughter was rejected even though she was self-harming. Some children reported that the assessment process was traumatic.