Young People Waiting Longer as Mental Health Services Struggle

9 February 2023 News
Tiles depicting the words 'Mental Health'

Mental Health services for children and young people continue to struggle following the pandemic, meaning some children are now waiting over a year for their first appointment, the NI Children’s Commissioner has said.  

A monitoring report published by the Commissioner today also showed that in March 2022 there were 2106 children waiting for CAMHS, the highest number since NICCY started monitoring waiting times in 2017. 

“The on-going impact of the pandemic had meant that children’s mental health continues to be of serious concern and that services are not able to meet that need,” Koulla Yiasouma said. 

“The latest statistics show that there were 47 children under 4 referred to CAMHS. It’s also alarming that for the first-time children are now waiting over a year for an appointment. That is unacceptable.” 

The Commissioner was speaking following the publication of the fourth and final monitoring report of recommendations made in ‘Still Waiting’, a Rights Based Review of Mental Health Services and Support for Children and Young People, published in September 2018. 

NICCY’s 50 recommendations, which were informed by young people, professionals and data, were aimed at improving access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), raising mental health awareness and improving the transition from child to adult services. 

“The publication of Still Waiting was a significant moment for NICCY set our method of working, that publication of rights-based reviews would only be the beginning of the work – effective implementation would be the goal,” Koulla said. 

“I have been really pleased with the way that government have tried to work together under the leadership of the Department of Health to develop the action plan. I hope that this model continues into the future.” 

A ‘Still Waiting Action Plan’ (SWAP) was developed by an inter-departmental group with representatives from government departments and members of the voluntary and community sector. 

NICCY has monitored the implementation of the SWAP annually since 2020. This role will pass to the Mental Health Champion following the publication of today’s fourth and final monitoring report. 

In line with her role, the Mental Health Champion will oversee the incomplete actions from the SWAP through her monitoring of the Mental Health Strategy. 

“I look forward to overseeing the implementation of the SWAP recommendations going forward as we continue to roll out the Mental Health Strategy and the Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Schools Framework,” Professor Siobhan O’Neill said. 

“The mental health of children and young people remains a key priority, services need to be improved and young people need to be able to access support at their point of need.” 

Today’s monitoring report also revealed that more than 47% of children and young people who are waiting to access CAMHS services are waiting beyond the 9-week time target and that approximately 3 in 10 young people who are referred to CAMHS are not accepted into the service, as it is deemed that CAMHS is not appropriate to meet their needs. 

It also showed a concerning rise in the number of emergency and urgent referrals (14% of all referrals) to CAMHS – with the number of children referred from emergency departments increasing from 484 in 2018/19 to 1,028 in 2021/22. 

The report notes that the commitment to increase CAMHS funding significantly has yet to be delivered. Rather than a planned additional £2.5 million allocation to CAMHS in 2022/23, a sum of £269,000 was provided instead.   

The Children’s Commissioner said that although progress has been made on the SWAP, there is still a significant amount of work to be done and major concerns about the funding available. 

“I am confident that if the plans and service models are backed up by sufficient funding and mental health workforce resource, then these will translate into tangible improvement in outcomes for children and young people,” she said.  

“This ongoing change process must have robust and transparent service activity data and outcome measurements embedded into it and be driven by the views and experience of children, young people and their adult advocates (parents, carers and practitioners). However, the current budgetary crisis and absence of political institutions will result with the much slower progress to the detriment of our children and young people.   

“I am confident that the Mental Health Champion, civil servants, statutory and voluntary agencies and of course NICCY will continue to work with children and young people to ensure that they receive their right to the highest standard of health care.” 

Concluding, the Commissioner called for funds to be ringfenced for CAMHS provision and emotional wellbeing services in schools:  

It is essential that funding is ringfenced for these important programmes, and to meet the commitments to increase CAMHS funding to 10% of the adult mental health funding.” 


Notes to Editors 


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