Why are children with mental illnesses being ‘turned away’ by the NHS?
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More than one in four children and young people referred to specialist mental health services in the east of England are turned away, according to a new report.
The Education Policy Institute (EPI), which carried out the study, said it was unclear what support was available to the approximately 133,000 youngsters who were turned away nationally - with the group including children and young people who have self-harmed, experienced abuse or have eating disorders.
The EPI gathered data under the Freedom of Information Act from 62 mental health providers in England out of 64.
What's the situation in our area?
In the east, providers rejected around 28% of referrals on average in 2018/19, the report suggests.
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Two mental health units in Colchester - Larkwood Ward and the Longview Adolescent Intensive Care Unit, both run by the Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT), and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) appear in a list of 10 providers with the highest proportion of rejected referrals in 2018/19.
In total, 86% of referrals to Larkwood Ward were rejected during that year, with 70% at Longview and 42.5% across the NSFT.
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There were 7,375 under-18s listed as accessing NHS-funded community services in Suffolk and north Essex throughout 2018-19.
Rejections can have 'devastating consequences'
Emma Thomas, chief executive of mental health charity YoungMinds, said: "These findings reinforce what we know from calls to our helpline - that too many young people who look for mental health support can't get it when they need it most.
"This can have devastating consequences - in some cases, young people drop out of school, start self-harming or become suicidal before they get the right support."
Why are youngsters being turned away?
Referrals were most commonly rejected because providers considered young people's conditions to be unsuitable for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), or because they did not meet the eligibility criteria or age specification.
However, the report does make clear that providers have different definitions of what they regard as 'inappropriate' referrals.
Whitney Crenna-Jennings, senior researcher at the EPI and author of the report, said the system was "operating under great strain".
She added: "There is a vast treatment gap, meaning the needs of hundreds of thousands of young people in England are not being met."
However, representatives for the NHS dispute the report's findings.
A spokesman said the service is actually ahead of its target - seeing an extra 53,000 children, teenagers and young adults last year, against a backdrop of rising referrals.
What did our mental health trusts have to say?
Stuart Richardson, chief operating officer at NSFT, said: "There is no nationally-agreed definition of what constitutes a rejected or inappropriate referral which means that different providers will answer this question in different ways, making comparisons between trusts and years difficult.
As the EPI research states: 'It is also important to note that the way in which referrals are treated and categorised varies across providers'.
"Our 42.5% figure for 2018/19 includes children and young people who had an appointment with our CAMHS services after referral but who, at that point, did not require further input from our specialist services.
"If a child or young person cannot be helped by one of our specialist services, they are referred to another suitable service or referred back to their GP.
"In 2018/19, our CAMHS services received 12,351 referrals, of which 2,755 (22.3%) were assessed without an appointment and then did not require further input from our specialist services."
Representatives for the Essex Partnership University Trust were approached for comment.