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We have a duty to support young people with their mental health

February 5, 2020 2:00 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Week in, week out, either at my constituency surgery or in my inbox or just through conversations with friends and acquaintances, I hear yet another tragic story of a child or young person struggling with their mental health, having to battle to get any sort of help.

Inadequate funding under the Conservatives has left Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) close to breaking point

Stories include teenagers self-harming and attempting suicide, being excluded from or staying away from school because their school or they themselves simply cannot cope. Stories include a ten-year-old - yes, a ten-year-old - with a severe mental health disorder who has already been waiting four months for her initial assessment and will have to wait months more for treatment.

Too many children are being let down by the system. Access to mental health services for children and young people is appalling. The waiting times are terrible. And the inadequate funding under the Conservatives has left Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) close to breaking point.

Despite three-quarters of all mental health problems being established by the age of 25, the NHS only spends £92 on mental health for every child, compared with £225 for every adult. And the funding for adult mental health services is pretty bad to begin with.

Local councils are also over-stretched and struggling to plug the NHS gaps. That's why Lib Dem-run Richmond Council has this week launched Richmond Voluntary Fund, inviting residents in the top two council tax bands to make a voluntary donation to the fund to support local mental health charities working hard to support young people with their mental wellbeing.

Last year the NHS came up with a Long Term Plan for the next ten years. The plan rightly identified CAMHS as a key priority which will get an increase in funding. However, the funding picture for CAMHS is foggy. It is unclear how much money is reaching children's mental health services.

The only way we can ensure that CAMHS gets the funding it needs is by knowing how much funding it gets to begin with

I and many others fear that when budgets get tight, money for mental health is squeezed. In an unusual and unprecedented move, the Conservative government has taken the step of writing into law an increase in the NHS budget to ensure it happens. However, if inflation rises higher than projected, especially in the wake of Brexit, the promised cash increases won't stretch as far as anticipated.

That's why we need greater transparency on CAMHS funding. Along with other Liberal Democrat MPs, I tabled an amendment this week to the government's new NHS Funding Bill which would have made it obligatory for government to report annually on levels on CAMHS spending across England. The only way we can ensure that CAMHS gets the funding it needs is by knowing how much funding it gets to begin with. The amendment would have made visible the gap in funding between mental and physical health, ensuring that - in future - the Conservative government has nowhere to hide. Sadly, the Speaker did not select the amendment.

We have a duty to ensure that no young person struggling with their mental health is left without support. Liberal Democrats are the party of mental health and we will continue to work to ensure everyone gets the help they need, when they need it.