The government has been accused of ‘neglecting’ children’s mental health, following a report revealing some children were waiting up to 18 months for treatment.

The report, which was authored by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – an independent regulator of health and social care services – showed that young people may wait months for assessment after an initial referral, and even longer before starting treatment. The report also highlighted that such lengthy delays can cause their mental health to deteriorate further, increasing the chance of children dropping out of school, self-harming, or becoming suicidal.

Overstretched services also mean that 1 in 5 children cannot be seen by the NHS, forcing many families to turn to expensive private treatment. However, with private therapy costing up to 200 a session, the NHS is the only option for many families. A separate report, published by charity The Children’s Society, showed that 30,000 children were turned away from support every year, with local NHS services not able to support them.

Furthermore, the CQC report showed that when children can access care, it does not always meet their needs, and 39% of child and adolescent mental health services (camhs) across the UK need improvement.

The NSPCC has received an increase in calls to Childline from children struggling to access mental health services. A spokesperson said: “This important report sadly reflects what children are telling us at Childline, with one in three counselling sessions last year relating to mental health and a record number of counselling sessions about suicidal thoughts. 

“Many of these children tell us that they are struggling to access support, even at crisis point. It’s clear that the system supposed to provide early help for children experiencing mental health problems is broken in many part of the country.  Without improvements in how services are funded, planned, and delivered, thousands of children will continue to struggle alone.”

NHS services are struggling to cope due to rising demand, lack of qualified staff, and an overall lack of funding. The quality of service across the UK has been described as patchy, and in some cases young people have been sent hundreds of miles away from their families to access a hospital bed. The number of under-18s ending up in hospital following self-harm has risen dramatically over the past decade: between 2011 and 2014, incidence of self-harm in girls rose by 68%.

Jeremy Hunt, Minister for Health, last year said that camhs were “possibly the biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision at the moment”. Investment has gone up by £100 million in the past year, after being reduced by around £50 million between 2010 and 2015. Hunt has promised an extra £1.3 billion will be invested annually by 2021. However, a survey of over 3000 NHS mental health staff, released earlier this year by a collection of mental health organisations, showed that a third said their service was facing downsizing or closure.

The full report, requested by the PM in January 2017, was officially released last week. A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Our commitment to improving children’s mental healthcare is shown by our additional £1.4bn investment, more trained staff, and more children and young people accessing care. But there is more to do, which is why we commissioned this review and will publish a green paper on children and young people’s mental health by the end of the year.” Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that “Although there has been some additional investment, money is not reaching the frontline, demand is increasing, and children are being pushed into crises. Every day children and young people are being let down”

Barbara Keeley MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, said: “This report reveals the Tory Government’s abject failure of children and young people in urgent need of mental health treatment…Labour will continue to call on the Tory Government to invest in and ring-fence mental health budgets as Labour pledged at the General Election, so that money reaches the underfunded services on the front line.”