• CQC publishes final report into children and young people’s mental health services
  • Report warns that unless pace of improvement increases children at risk of “unnecessary distress” and “avoidable deteriorations” in health
  • Recommendations for local, regional and national leaders to reduce fragmentation between services, commissioners and providers

Promised commitments to improve children and young people’s mental health services must be delivered more quickly or patients will suffer “unnecessary distress”, a report ordered by Theresa May has warned.

The prime minister told the Care Quality Commission to carry out a review of child and adolescent mental health services last January. Its report has been published today.

Since becoming prime minister, Ms May has said improving mental health services is a personal priority.

Jeremy Hunt told HSJ in October 2016 that children’s mental health services were the “biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision” and vowed to make it a top priority.

The report said too many children and young people found themselves at “crisis point” before being able to access care because health, education and other public services were not working together as effectively enough.

While the CQC welcomed plans to improve services and invest new cash, it warned that unless the pace of delivery was increased children and young people risked “unnecessary distress” and “avoidable deteriorations” in their health.

It added: “Government proposals – such as establishing dedicated mental health support teams in schools – are welcome, and the commitment of funding in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health has been a significant intervention and an important signal that this is a priority for the whole system to address.

“However, unless the pace of delivery is accelerated, these commitments will not be enough to achieve the scale of change that is required to protect children and young people from unnecessary distress and avoidable deterioration in their mental health.”

In an interim report, published in October, the CQC called the system “fragmented” and said young people often had problems accessing help.

The CQC visited 10 areas in England for its review. It spoke to staff, children and young people, parents and families; reviewed policies and procedures; and visited schools and hospitals and other services.

The regulator made recommendations for local, regional and national organisations to improve CAMHS. These included:

  • The health and social care secretary should drive joint action across government through the inter-ministerial group on mental health.
  • Sustainability and transformation partnership and integrated care system leaders should collaborate with organisations outside traditional health and social care services including schools, police and probation, and charities.
  • Commissioners and providers across education, local authorities and the NHS should work with NHS Digital to improve the quality and availability of data.

The report said while local commissioners and providers can do a lot to drive improvements, national organisations, regulators and the government must remove barriers to change.

It added: “Good practice in local systems happens despite how services are structured, commissioned and overseen, not because of it. Those working locally will not achieve their full potential to support young people until the complexity and fragmentation of the system is addressed.

“If we are to see a significant and sustainable improvement in the quality and accessibility of mental health support for children and young people then it must become a national priority.”

The report has been welcomed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Nursing and the charity Young Minds.

NHS England national mental health director Claire Murdoch said the CQC “rightly acknowledged” the forward view as a “route map for improvement and investment”.

She added: “CAMHS are now improving but from a starting point of historic underfunding and legacy understaffing, relative to rapidly growing need.

“As we look out over the next few years, the CQC is also right to highlight better cross-sector working involving health providers, schools, regulators and government, as well as children and parents, if we’re to put in place care which is timely, supportive and of the highest quality.” 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said the government’s green paper on children and young people’s mental health set out a range of proposals to improve the way schools and the NHS work together.

She added: “As the report makes clear, the government is transforming mental health services for children and young people – and our recent green paper set out a range of proposals to strengthen the way schools and specialist NHS mental health services work together, backed by an additional £300m – proof that we are absolutely committed to improving young people’s mental health.”

The green paper consultation finished last week, but it is not known what the government’s response will be.