• Health secretary Jeremy Hunt brands children’s mental health services the NHS’s “biggest area of weakness”
  • Mr Hunt took on mental health portfolio after being reappointed as health secretary
  • He tells HSJ there were “big problems” with CAMHS capacity and one solution is integrating more NHS services into schools

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called children’s mental health services the “biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision” and vowed to make it a top priority.

Mr Hunt said too many families were being let down because of what he described as “big problems” in the capacity of services to support and treat children earlier in their lives. HSJ understands Theresa May is also particularly keen to see the quality of children and young people’s mental health services improve.



Jeremy Hunt said it was a ‘tragedy’ children were not getting treatment early enough

Mr Hunt took on the Department of Health’s mental health services portfolio after being reappointed as health secretary earlier in July, and said one solution to the crisis is acting earlier in children’s lives by “integrating what happens in the school system with what happens in the NHS”.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Hunt told HSJ it was a “tragedy” that children developing complex mental illnesses were not getting the treatment they needed until they were in their teens.

He added: “There is a big opportunity to do something to really make sure we deliver the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health and also to go further in the quality of mental healthcare we give to children and young people.

“I think that is possibly the biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision at the moment.

“There are too many tragedies because children develop eating disorders or psychosis or chronic depression, which is then very difficult to put right as they get older.”

Mr Hunt’s comments follow NHS Digital’s recent study of mental health and wellbeing, which found that girls and young women aged 16-24 were the highest risk for reporting a common mental disorder.

NHS England announced a £3.97bn funding package for the sector in July, which described how an extra £1.4bn pledged for children and adolescent mental health services would be invested over the next five years, with £30m a year being set aside for eating disorder services.

NHS England has also launched two projects where commissioning powers have been devolved to mental health trusts to implement new care models for tier four (inpatient services) CAMHS.

Mr Hunt said integrating CAMHS further into schools could identify children and young people with mental health problems before they increase in complexity and get harder to treat.

He said: “I think we are letting down too many families and not intervening early enough when there is a curable mental health condition, which we can do something about when a child is eight or nine but if you leave it until they are 15 or 16 it’s too late.

“There are big problems with the capacity in CAMHS services but it’s not just there, but what happens in schools. Very few schools have a full time CAMHS worker.”

“We talk about integration in lots of other areas but actually integrating what happens in the school system with what happens in the NHS, and not just primary but secondary schools as well.

“I think we could make a lot of headway if we did that… the sheer family agony that we could avoid by helping children not to go off the rails earlier could make a huge difference.”