• Local transformation plan outlines concerns regarding increasing pressure on CAMHS
  • Commissioners say action is being taken to meet rising demand 
  • CAMHS waiting times in Hampshire deemed “unacceptable” 

“Overstretched” children’s mental health services in the South East will be “unable to meet the challenging needs” of the increasing numbers of young unaccompanied asylum seekers arriving in the region, according to regional managers.

The local transformation plan for children’s mental health services in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight warns the rising demand on struggling child and adolescent mental health services will mean care is provided “in a less timely way”.

However, commissioners have said plans are in place to make sure both the physical and mental health needs of unaccompanied minors are met as numbers continue to grow.

Since 2016, 2,165 unaccompanied minors have applied for asylum in the South East, with the highest proportion arriving in 2018 and 2019.

Analysis of the health needs of young refugees arriving in the UK in 2015-16 found 41 per cent of children had symptoms of a mental illness — the most common being post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, according to the LTP.

The LTP report added: “The implications for the South East region of continued high numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving is clear.

“Our already overstretched resources will be less able to provide health care in a timely way.

“Our CAMHs services, which already struggle to meet the need of our citizenship population, will be unable to meet the challenging needs of these particular vulnerable individuals.”

CAMHS in Hampshire were criticised in the LTP for “unacceptable” waiting times, with just 38 per cent of cases assessed within one month over the past year, against a target of 95 per cent.

However, Alison Edgington, director of delivery at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Partnership Clinical Commissioning Groups, insisted there are “no delays” in providing mental healthcare to young asylum seekers “when their needs are more urgent”.

She said: “We are engaging with services to further understand what can be done to address concerns with waiting times for unaccompanied refugee children in relation to CAMHS services, but would want to offer reassurance that there are no delays in the provision of mental health services to affected children when their needs are more urgent.

“There are well established arrangements in place to support the access needs of this group of service users, including potential language needs, lack of familiarity with our health system or unresolved trauma. Any delays in service provision relate only to those children assessed to have more routine mental health needs, and would be comparable to how long any young person with similar mental health needs might wait to access help.

“As already said, we are aware of the pressure CAMHS as a whole is under and have made significant investment this year, with more funding to come over the next few years to reduce waiting times for all children and young people that need help.”

Anne Eden, south east regional director for NHS England and NHS Improvement, added: “The NHS long-term plan renews the national commitment to transforming mental health services for children and young people.

“Work is ongoing to improve access to children and young peoples’ mental health services and standards are improving. We are working with partners to ensure local plans prioritise improving access to mental health to improve outcomes for vulnerable young people, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.”

Referring specifically to unaccompanied migrant children and access to services, Ms Eden said: “Agencies are working hard to ensure that all children who need mental health care and treatment, receive the best care according to their level of need — whatever their background or origin.”

Kent has housed the highest number of unaccompanied minors in the South East — a total of 675 over the past three years — while 228 unaccompanied minors arrived in Hampshire in the same period.

In response to increased demands on CAMHS in 2017, a pilot mental health project was launched in Kent specifically to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This was then published online to make sure it was shared across the country.

Update: This story was updated at 13:40 on 3 January to include quotes from Anne Eden.