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East Anglian children have least spent on their mental health in the country

PUBLISHED: 10:51 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:26 11 April 2019

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Children in the east of England have the least money spent on their mental health care in the country, as some were having to threaten suicide to fight their way into treatment.

That was the finding of a study by the children’s commissioner who warned youngsters in need of low-level treatment face a “postcode lottery” when trying to get help.

Just £5.32 is spent per head on children in the east of England, the lowest in England, compared to the highest of £17.88 per head in London.

In Norfolk and Waveney the NHS and county council combined spent £9.08 per head in 2016/17 but this rose to £11.97 per head for 2018/19.

A spokesman for the Norfolk and Waveney Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) said an additional £1.3m had been put into eating disorders.

The spokesman said: “We completely agree with the children’s commissioner that there needs to be even more focus on helping children and young people earlier, to prevent more serious health problems from developing.”

Low-level mental health services provide preventative and early intervention support for problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

It can include school nurses or counsellors, drop-in centres or online counselling services to help prevent conditions developing into more serious illnesses.

The children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said: “Those who are accepted for treatment often have to wait months for help, children have even told me they had to threaten to take their own life before they managed to access treatment. This situation has to change.”

Researchers found nationally £226m was allocated for low-level services in 2018/19, just over £14 per child.

Around half of this funding comes from local authorities (LAs) and half from NHS sources.

In 2018/19, the top 25pc of local areas spent £1.1m or more on low-level mental health services, while the bottom 25pc spent £177,000 or less.

The STP spokesman added: “That’s why we recently started work to transform children and young people’s mental health services within the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership. This brings together all of those working across mental health in Norfolk and Waveney so that we can create a joined-up system that delivers the very best for our children.

“Together, we will be developing services for those aged up to 25, with a focus on early support and well-being. As part of this, we expect there to be more support within homes and schools.

“Recent reports into children’s mental health services in Norfolk have also highlighted several strengths in practice in Norfolk, not least the dedicated, caring and compassionate staff working across mental health and children’s services. We want to give them the environment to make the biggest difference for families and we know that change is needed to achieve that.”

However Mrs Longfield said: “This report reveals for the first time the postcode lottery facing the increasing number of children suffering from low-level mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.”

She said it was “extremely worrying” that areas were reducing real-terms spending on “vital services”.

“The children I speak to who are suffering from conditions like anxiety and depression aren’t asking for intensive inpatient therapeutic treatment, they just want to be able to talk to a counsellor about their worries and to be offered advice on how to stop their problems turning into a crisis.

“The NHS 10-Year Plan has made children’s mental health a top priority, but it won’t succeed unless children with low-level mental health problems are offered help quickly and early.

“Local authorities are under huge financial pressure and many are doing a good job, but those who are spending barely anything on low-level mental health cannot continue to leave children to struggle alone.”

An NSPCC spokesperson for the east of England said: “It is deeply disappointing that children are being short-changed by cuts to spending on early intervention mental health services, particularly when demand is increasing. We cannot underestimate the impact this is having on young people in the East of England who receive the lowest funding per head for mental health services in England - shockingly just a third of that spent in London.

“We hear from tens of thousands of children every year through Childline who are dealing with various mental health and wellbeing issues. Sometimes we are their only source of support.

“The government has committed to transform children’s mental health services through the roll-out of new school-based mental-health support teams, but this is only set to cover a quarter of the country. The NHS and central government need to be consistent when it comes to the provision of children’s mental health services, and they need to act now to make sure children can access the right support at the right time, no matter where they live.”

Emma Thomas, chief executive of mental health charity YoungMinds, said the report’s findings were “deeply concerning”.

“We work with young people who say that getting the right mental health support from a youth worker, school counsellor or local charity saved their lives,” she said.

“While extra money for specialist NHS services is of course welcome, it’s better for everyone if young people can get help before their needs escalate or they hit crisis point.”

She called for “clearer and more consistent data” to improve the “patchy” reporting of local services and help commissioners make informed decisions.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the report showed many young people are not getting help they need “to stop falling into crisis”.

She highlighted the closure of around 1,000 Sure Start services in the past decade and the reduction of health visitors and school nurses.

“By the time young people reach specialist child and adolescent mental health services they often have significant mental health problems which could have been avoided with the right help much earlier on,” she added.

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