Investing in children’s mental health services is an investment in our future

On the eve of World Mental health Day, Dr Jacqueline Cornish, NHS England’s National Clinical Director Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood, takes a look at what needs to change in children’s mental health services.

I was really shocked when I started this job to discover the extent of mental ill health in children and young people.

One in ten five to fifteen year olds have a diagnosable mental health condition. Three quarters of those with severe mental health problems in adult life were diagnosed before the age of eighteen.

Mental ill health in children and young people leads to all sorts of problems: dropping out of school or failing to achieve, or turning to smoking and taking drugs.

Yet for so long children and young peoples’ mental health services have lagged behind adult mental health services which are, in themselves, under resourced. We spend only 6 six per cent of the NHS mental health budget on our children and young people, and although there are a number of therapies which are effective in treating children and young people early on when they first experience problems, these are not available to every child that needs them.

I am determined to see this change, and the good news is I am not alone. Health Minister Norman Lamb recently convened a taskforce of experts – and by experts I include young people and parents that have been through ‘the system’ to look at what needs to change.

NHS England has a number of programmes to help improve access to treatments that work – such as the Children and Young people’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme that is working to help services make sure children, young people and families are fully involved in decisions about their care and in designing service to meet their needs.

The Multi Systemic Therapy Programme delivered with the Department for Education is aimed at stopping children on the brink of care or going into the criminal justice system, and helping them and their families to turn their lives around.

The recent review into inpatient services for children and young people confirmed that we need to work even harder to make sure children and young people get the help they need as close to home as possible.

I was really pleased to see that the ‘Achieving Better Access to mental Health Services by 2020′ has children and young people woven through it rather than tacked on at the end. The vision is bold, improving access and waiting times for all ages.

Although the first targets are adult ones, be under no illusions – this document and vision applies to children and young people as well.

Local commissioners and services will need to think about how children and young people get help in a crisis, how they make sure mental health staff who know how to work with children and young people link into A&E and other hospital departments.

NHS England will continue to support the delivery of evidence based outcomes focussed service. But now we need to mobilise all those who commission across the country, be it in schools, local authorities, CCGs or NHS England – if we want to improve the health of our adult population.

The first thing we need to do is to support our children and young people. Investing in our children and young people is investing in our future – but it can’t wait.

Jacqueline Cornish

Dr Jacqueline Cornish was the National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood in NHS England from 2013 to 2019.

As a clinician she specialised in pioneering treatments for childhood cancer and leukaemia, and brought to NHS England 20 years’ leadership experience in the NHS, having been Head of Division of Women’s and Children’s Services at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, and a former Director of Paediatric Stem Cell Transplant (SCT) at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

The post of National Clinical Director for Children and Young People is now held by Professor Simon Kenny, Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool and National Clinical Lead for Paediatric Surgery for the Getting It Right First Time programme.

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  1. Caroline Jessel says:

    Dear Dr Cornish
    This article is extremely interesting and pertinent. I write partially as chair of a charity for children, Dandelion Time with severe mental health and behavioural problems. We work with the whole family and use the natural world as a therapeutic resource along with a range of other approaches. It is innovative in approach and very effective. If you could spare the time and are ever in Kent do come and see!
    Kind regards
    Caroline Jessel