MENTAL HEALTH: A lack of funding and surge in demand has forced a children’s mental health charity to close its waiting list.

Cheshire based charity Visyon announced the closure this week. It said it has 151 children under 11 from Cheshire East waiting for treatment.

Chief executive Gervase McGrath said the charity had children as young as four facing a wait of 18 months for treatment.

In the last three months, Mr McGrath said Visyon had received 57 referrals in 2016, compared to 37 in 2015, and children were being referred with increasingly complex issues.

He added: “We have been forced to take this decision because of a lack of funding and an unprecedented increase in demand for our services.

“The challenge that we face is considerable. At the current time we are not in a position to take anyone off the waiting list for treatment for at least two months.

“This is partly due to the additional pressure on the NHS [children and adolescent mental health services] in Cheshire East.”

The charity provides support to children and young people with mental health problems and their families in Cheshire East and North Staffordshire. It relies on almost exclusively on voluntary fundraising to support children under 11.

Mr McGrath said increasing pressure on the charity’s waiting list was due to a lack of funding in the region’s CAMHS services.

He said the charity’s referral team were now having to explain to “desperate parents” why they could not offer immediate help to their children.

The charity claimed clinical commissioning groups in Cheshire were awarded a share of £1.2bn set aside by the government to transform children and you people’s mental health services, but had used the cash to tackle their deficits.

Mr McGrath added: “We are extremely concerned that the most vulnerable people in our community are being disadvantaged by this decision.

“The NHS must be made more efficient and budgets must be balanced but our children’s health must be the highest priority.”

However, Eastern Cheshire CCG said it invested £2m in CAMHS last financial year and was maintaining that investment this year “despite increasing financial pressure”.

Chief officer Jerry Hawker said there was “confusion” over the CCG’s financial plans for CAMHS services during the current financial year, but an increase in investment could not be maintained.

He added: “The CCG understands that, in publishing its financial plans for 2016-17, some confusion has arisen over its funding and investment in CAHMS.

“We acknowledge that, given the increase in investment in 2015-16, similar levels of new investment cannot be maintained in 2016-17.

“This is why the CCG is working openly and transparently with the public to balance the need for significant savings while continuing to invest in its priorities.”

A spokeswoman for the NHS England Cheshire and Merseyside team said Eastern Cheshire CCG had met the requirement to spend more on mental health each year for 2015-16 and had plans to do so again in 2016-17.

She added: “The CCG has a statutory duty to live within its financial allocation and its expenditure plans for 2016-17 exceed its allocation.

“It is not accurate to state that NHS England has forced the CCG to redirect funding and is preventing them from spending money that was intended for CAMHS.

“It is for the CCG to decide the actions required to meet its financial and statutory obligations.”