Funding cuts hit child mental health

MENTAL health bosses have admitted huge debts are leaving them unable to provide certain specialist children's services.Funding cuts to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) have left them unable to meet gaps that were already in the service.

MENTAL health bosses have admitted huge debts are leaving them unable to provide certain specialist children's services.

Funding cuts to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) have left them unable to meet gaps that were already in the service.

With 115 children waiting more than a year to see a child mental health specialist in Ipswich, Alan Staff, director of modernisation for CAMHS has admitted it feels like finance problems are coming before clinical need.

He said: ""You feel very powerless in the whole process. You start to feel that the finance runs the show rather than the clinical need and know-how.

"In your heart of hearts, you know there are things that we could do for a person, but in reality we can't provide."

As The Evening Star revealed in a special investigation last November, around 80 children in Ipswich were waiting up to a year to see a specialist.

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At the time it was revealed that CAMHS and the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership were hoping to introduce a 72-hour assessment bed to avoid having to send youngsters out of county for specialist care at huge expense.

However Mr Staff said youngsters are still having to be sent away.

He said: "We have to send them out of county to specialist units – and there aren't that many. It's very expensive and very stressful for the children and their families."

If there are no beds available, children have to be nursed in Ipswich Hospital's general paediatric areas or in their own home with, ideally, two people there for up to 24 hours a day, for several days.

Even though CAMHS is already stretched, it is also faced with the prospect of funding cuts in the future.

Mr Staff said: "I don't think it would be fair to say CAMHS is struggling, but I think there are significant gaps in service for young people and CAMHS is unable to meet those gaps.

"I think the amount of funding available for services is likely to be reduced in the future. They haven't told us by how much, but we are expecting it."

And Mr Staff fears the sacrifices specialists are having to make today could be storing up problems for the future.

He said: "Instead of giving three or four appointments, we have to say we can only do one – an assessment – and then transfer people somewhere else because we don't have the staff. That's getting more common.

"A lot of the more behavioural things are being transferred to GPs, to schools, to social care, to parents. The more severe cases, we would take on.

"The problem is that the children who initially present at a low level are likely to be the ones who become high end, but there is nothing we can do about it. It's a Catch 22 situation."

The children currently on the Ipswich waiting list are waiting to receive assessments for conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behavioural problems.

In Suffolk Coastal and Central areas, waiting times are below six months – well within the guideline time of nine months.

Mr Staff said: "One of our consultants died of cancer in the early part of this year, which has contributed to the waiting list rising again."

It is hoped that a one-off grant of around £100,000 of government money will help tackle the Ipswich waiting list.

Mr Staff added there were no unacceptable waiting lists elsewhere in the county and that if a child has an urgent need, such as a psychotic disorder or severe depression to the point of self-harm and suicide, he or she is seen within 48 hours.

CAMHS receives funding from Suffolk East and Suffolk West PCTs, as well as from local authorities.

n. Do you have a child waiting for specialist help or are you a parent whose child has had to go out of county for care? How is it affecting you? Call the Evening Star newsdesk on 01473 324788.

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INCREASING numbers of Suffolk children are suffering mental health problems.

The county's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) has seen a big increase in young people self-harming.

It is also seeing the start of psychotic illness in youngsters aged 16 or 17, when this would normally be expected in the early to mid-20s.

Alan Staff, director of modernisation and CAMHS for the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, said: "The incidence of presentation with urgent psychiatric need has increased over the past five years.

"At any one time, we probably have about a dozen to 15 young people in specialist care out of county, who are very ill with self-harm, substantial risk of suicide or psychotic illness.

"On top of that, there are four or five being dealt with at a local level – in their own home or at Ipswich Hospital.

"On top of that, there are all the juvenile overdoses who present on a Friday night, who aren't actually suicidal and in the cold light of day are fine.

"We are talking about 100 to 200 young people a year who end up in casualty with overdoses and self-harm, who would not have been considered at risk of suicide."

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