Thames Valley children's mental health in danger of being sidelined says charity

NSPCC report
NSPCC report

Over 50,000 children in the Thames Valley who have been abused or neglected could be sidelined by mental health services as a result of changes being introduced by the NHS, NSPCC research suggests.

The charity is now calling on NHS England to set out how it will prioritise the needs of vulnerable children and for more transparency over how mental health services commissioning decisions are made.

The NSPCC analysed the latest annual mental health plans published by NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). The plans set out how they will care for children’s mental health, and the NSPCC found that across England 82 per cent were not properly planning for the needs of vulnerable children.

In the Thames Valley this means that an estimated 51,499 children who have been abused or neglected are living in an area with inadequate plans for their mental health needs, or with

no plans for their care at all. That figure rises to 1.3 million children across England.

While some progress has been made since 2015/16, the NSPCC is warning that this could be undermined and the NHS could lose sight of the mental health needs of vulnerable children, as responsibility for commissioning decisions moves from individual CCGs to new regional NHS partnerships that cover much larger geographical areas.

In the charity’s analysis, each plan produced by CCGs across England was given a ‘traffic light’ rating for its understanding of the needs of vulnerable children. For 2018/19, 74 per cent were rated amber, 2 per cent were rated red, and 6 per cent did not publish an updated plan.

Green rated plans accounted for 18 per cent, up from 14 per cent in 2015/16, and the proportion of plans rated red has dropped from 37 per cent to 2 per cent in the same time period.

Existing evidence shows that children who have been abused or neglected are more likely to develop mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or PTSD.

NSPCC head of policy Almudena Lara said: “Children who have lived through the trauma of abuse and neglect need all the support we can give them to help them recover.

“We know there are fantastic mental health services supporting lots of these children up and down the country. But it’s not enough, and a system that’s already struggling to properly plan for their mental health needs will render them all but invisible if action isn’t taken now by NHS England.

“Millions more children could be affected unless the NHS ensures that vulnerable young people are explicitly recognised in the new commissioning arrangements.”

The NSPCC is now calling for:

• A commitment from NHS England to put the needs of vulnerable children at the heart of its implementation of the NHS ‘Long Term Plan’

• Greater accountability and oversight from NHS England, with more transparency from commissioners on how mental health services for children are funded and planned.

• Decisions about what mental health services to provide around the country for children to be rooted in a detailed assessment of local needs, which includes specific reference to vulnerable children.