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We must properly resource our children's mental health services

We must properly resource our children's mental health services
4 min read

Last year, 33% of children and young people referred for mental health services were still on the waiting list at the end of the year. We need to properly resource our children's mental health services, writes Preet Gill MP 

This week is children’s mental health week and I am really pleased to have been granted a debate to mark the occasion and to raise a number of important issues that are often overlooked where we talk about mental health and mental ill health.  

Much of the focus on mental ill health is around treatment, and this is of course a vital aspect of the holistic approach we need to tackle mental health problems. It is why I put two amendments to the government’s NHS Funding Bill earlier this week to require more transparency about the level of investment the government will be putting into tackling mental ill health through the health service.

Recent data from the NHS identified that one in eight 5 to 19 year olds in England have a mental health difficulty, and this is a proportion that has increased (slightly) over recent years.

We need to properly resource our Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services so we put an end to the trend whereby 33% of children and young people referred in 2018/19 were still stuck on the waiting list at the end of the year.

We also need to address the huge shortages of mental health professionals. The mental healthcare workforce has barely grown under the Conservatives despite an increase of 238,000 patient interactions with mental health services in the last two years alone. This is having a huge impact.; a recent survey by the British Medical Association for example, found that almost two thirds of nurses said that on their last shift there was a shortage of one or more nursing staff. 

These things desperately need addressing but we also need to be aware that the funding is not enough on its own. These should be in addition to other attempts at tackling inequalities including investment and political will in the provision of preventative and early intervention services.

Local authorities work so hard on innovative solutions and public health measures to tackle mental health problems and promote mental wellbeing; with Newport for example developing mental health workshops to be used in schools. However, because of swingeing cuts from national government, 60% of local authority areas have seen a real-terms fall in spending on mental health services for children which come under the ‘low level’ bracket, which includes early intervention for things like eating disorders and depression. If we do not support children at an early stage, then we will almost inevitably feel the impact further down the line when emergency services will be forced to step in.

Schools around the country do an amazing job under trying circumstances; with two thirds funding their own mental health support, arranging wellbeing support sessions and peer mentors. However, this is not sustainable and comes at the same time as schools across Birmingham are facing a shortfall of over ninety million pounds in 2020.  Last year I conducted a survey of schools in my constituency of Edgbaston discover that 90% had seen an increase in staff and students suffering from mental health problems.

Mental health problems are not unique to any one type of person but there are clear inequalities at play. If the parents of a child were the recipient of low-income benefits, then the child was almost two times as likely to have a diagnosable mental health condition. If we look at our criminal justice system, a staggering 95% of 15-21 years olds in custody have been found to suffer from a mental health disorder. We need to talk about the things that can impact our mental health but also about the impact our mental health can have on our life chances and I am hoping to use my debate to raise this with the minister.

We cannot pretend that the causes of mental health are simple or that they are not impacted and exacerbated by inequalities and injustice. The Centre for Mental Health have rightly raised the futility of funding mental health services that support symptoms if this funding and resources are diverted from preventative measures including policies in the criminal justice system, education public health, youth services, housing and social security. These sectors and services are all in vital need of long-term sustainable support if we are to have meaningful and positive impact on tackling children’s mental ill-health.


Preet Gill is Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston. 

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