More than a quarter of the children referred by doctors to mental health services in England in 2015 were turned away, according to a new report. More concerningly still, the Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield even found hundreds of cases of young people who had attempted suicide receiving no help or teatment.
Around 14% of the 3,000 or so young people referred to children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in 2015 with a life-threatening condition, such as high risk of suicide, self-harm, psychosis and anorexia nervosa, "were not allocated any provision". Of the rest, 51% were put on a waiting list, where some waited more than 100 days to receive help.
Longfield told the BBC that the system in England was "playing Russian roulette" with children's health. When compiling her report she heard from a "constant stream of children, parents and professionals" about their struggle to get help once their GP refers them to specialists.
"I don't yet know quite why they are being turned away, but certainly being turned away or put on a waiting list for up to six months is clearly playing Russian roulette with their health," she said.
Using data provided by 48 of England's 60 child and adolescent mental health service trusts, Longfield found that 28% of referrals ended up being denied the specialist treatment first recommended by their family doctors. In most cases, specialist services claimed that their illnesses were not sufficiently serious.
"We know that the longer you leave it, the more dangers there are to children," she told Sky News. "If there are serious conditions – we're looking at potential suicide, psychosis, very serious conditions – then the longer you leave it, the more of a lottery you're playing with children's health."
In a statement, a spokesperson for NHS England told Sky News: "While the data in this report does not substantiate the conclusions drawn, it is clearly the case that CAMHS services need to expand and the additional £1.4bn pledged will help us to do that."
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health problems you may get support and advice from the charities Mind (mind.org.uk or call 0300 123 3393) and SANE (www.sane.org.uk or call 0300 304 7000). Call charges may apply.