Lewisham council is planning to cut funding to children’s mental health services (CAMHS) by £150,000 over the next two years. This follows a £94,000 cut last year, and is on top of NHS “efficiency savings”.
These cuts follow a pattern around the country. More than one in five local authorities has either frozen or cut its CAMHS budgets every year since 2010. £85m has gone from those budgets in six years.
A recent report by the Care Quality Commission shows that in some areas children and young people are waiting for up to 18 months to start treatment with the specialist service.
Lewisham is an area with high levels of poverty and deprivation and consequently it has a youth population with high risks factors for mental ill health.
At least three, and up to six, posts will be cut, on top of two that were cut last year.
The pressure of the waiting lists forces clinicians to chose between the “more deserving” and “least deserving” cases. Some young people will not be able to get any kind of specialist treatment at all.
But all “cases” of young people experiencing mental ill health are urgent. A six month wait (or longer) is a very long time in a 14, 15 or 17 year-old’s life. Children often end up in A&E in a desperate search for help; others self-harm, others drop out of school for long periods of time. This is completely unacceptable.
The most vulnerable children may get in-patient help but the hospital place may be a long way from their parents.
Mental illnesses often first occurs in adolescence, and it’s trend that is rising to epidemic proportions.
Yet we also know that if young people are are able to access early support and treatment they can recover and get onto the road to adulthood with better mental health.
These cuts will not be the end. Over the next three years Lewisham council, again, like other councils around the country plans to pass a huge cut in funding.
In Lewisham there will be a loss of something like £385 million in income (a 24% reduction in overall income).