Mental health support for children neglected by Government

Some years ago Norman Lamb effectively led the Lib Dem campaign to give mental health equal parity with physical health in the NHS. This did lead to some welcome changes in both attitude and provision, including the creation of new Mental Health Support Teams in schools and colleges in England, which were set up in 2018.  Each MHST would cover some 8000 pupils, and the plan envisioned 500 teams in place by the end of 2024, to cover about half of all pupils.

The MHSTs were a welcome addition to the existing acute Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, offering early support and, hopefully, preventing the escalation of problems to the point where a referral to CAMHs would be necessary.

Then Covid struck, and lockdown is known to have had a marked effect on the nation’s mental health, particularly in children, whose normal processes of growing up were substantially interrupted. Sadly, it also slowed down the rollout of the MHSTs.

Munira Wilson, our health spokesperson, has carried on the campaign for children’s mental health provision and has been gaining some traction. In today’s Guardian she reports on research by the Liberal Democrats that reveals the inadequate state of mental health support in schools.

It seems only a quarter of primary pupils and half of secondary school pupils will have access to an MHST by the end of next year. And there are no plans for future funding.

A report in April by the House Magazine revealed the desperate state of provision by CAMHS, especially in England, with some areas turning away 60% of all referrals. Sometimes children in crisis – attempting suicide, for example – were denied any support even when referred by their GPs. It seems that, in order to deal with the backlog the CAMHS simply raised the threshold for access.

MHSTs were designed to deal with problems spotted in schools long before they reached crisis point, so are essential in relieving the pressure on CAMHS.

Munira Wilson is quoted as saying:

The government is letting down our children and young people. Our children’s mental health services were in crisis before the pandemic, but Conservative ministers have failed completely to grasp the scale of the tidal wave in mental ill health that has emerged since.

Under the Tories, a school that sees an NHS mental health professional for a day a week is one of the lucky ones. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of children are left waiting to see if mental health support will be rolled out at their school or sacrificed to pay for the government’s economic incompetence. Yet failing to roll out the programme will simply make waiting times for acute CAMHS even worse.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Helen Dudden 10th Jun '23 - 10:41am

    This will include Autistic Children?
    My own grandchild could have a problem with digestion and immunity. How frustrating for her parents when my grandchild can’t say what’s wrong.

  • Peter Hirst 10th Jun '23 - 2:13pm

    Children’s mental health is a serious issue. We need to reform the curriculum so how our mind works becomes as accepted knowledge as understanding gravity or germ theory.

  • “ NHS mental health professional ”
    This is possibly part of the problem; the money etc. is coming out of the NHS rather than the third-sector, who can not only deliver this service cheaper than the NHS, but without the “medical”/patient connotations.

    In my area there is a NHS third-sector consortium, however, a big problem is the NHS member wants to extend into the third sector delivery areas (ie. keep more of the monies to itself), failing to understand there are reasons people prefer going to third sector service delivery organisations…

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