There are wide disparities in spending per child in different parts of England with more than a third of areas seeing a real-terms fall in spending on these services. This is despite soaring demand and increased government funding for children’s mental health nationally, the study by the children’s commissioner for England found.
Experts said early intervention by school nurses, counsellors, drop-in centres or online support services to address low-level conditions can prevent them developing into more serious illnesses. And the report warned children may be losing out at this crucial point.
Researchers used spending data from local authorities and NHS clinical commissioning groups, which each contribute roughly half of funding, to calculate that local areas allocated £226m for low-level mental health services in 2018-19 – just over £14 per child.
But while local authority spending per child in London was £17.88, it was just £5.32 in the east of England. According to the study, a few very high-spending areas mask a larger proportion of low-spending areas.
The report’s findings showed the top 25% of local areas each spent upwards of £1.1m while the bottom 25% spent £177,000 or less. Spending per child was higher in London and the north-east, lower in the East Midlands, east of England and south-east. Urban areas were slightly better off than rural regions.
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “The children I speak to who are suffering from conditions like anxiety and depression aren’t asking for intensive in-patient therapeutic treatment, they just want to be able to talk to a counsellor about their worries and to be offered advice on how to stop their problems turning into a crisis.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said investing in children’s mental health was a priority for government. “We are transforming services through the NHS long-term plan – backed by an extra £2.3bn a year – so that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental health care by 2020-21.
“Early intervention is vital and we’re going further, piloting a four-week waiting time standard for treatment, training a brand new dedicated mental health workforce for schools across the country, and teaching pupils what good mental and physical health looks like.”
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter – Tamsin
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