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RCEM survey finds over half of Children and Adolescent Mental Health services in the Emergency Department are described as poor or awful, as children and young people face extremely long waits

2 September 2022

A repeat survey by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine of their members into mental health services for children and young people (CYP) in crisis in the Emergency Department has found:

  • 54% of respondents reported that mental health services for children and adolescents were generally poor or awful. This has not improved since the last survey in 2018.
  • Half of respondents said children and young people facing mental health crises arriving between 3 and 7pm experienced waits of 12-24 hours to see a specialist mental health professional.
  • Only one in five Emergency Departments reported having a full 24/7 service.
  • Two-thirds of respondents reported waiting times of over 24 hours for, with reports of waits of five days in the Emergency Department.
  • There has been an increase in provision of 24/7 crisis phone lines and a slight increase in overnight provision from 8% to 20% of respondents from 2018.

Dr Catherine Hayhurst, Chair of the Mental Health Committee at the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:

“We remain deeply concerned about poor mental health provision for children and young people in crisis in Emergency Departments. For many young people facing a mental health crisis, Emergency Departments are still one of few places to turn to for help.

“This survey shows that mental health services for young people are poor in many Emergency Departments, and few places offer mental health services overnight. Moreover, if a child or young person is unwell enough to need an admission to a CAMHS bed, they often face shockingly long waits. Tragically, their mental health can deteriorate as they wait. The environment in an Emergency Department is inevitably busy and despite improving our staff training in adolescent mental health, it is hard to give good care.

“We acknowledge that there has already been an increase in funding for Children and Adolescent Mental Health services and welcome the advent of crisis phone lines and crisis / home treatment services. However, many services are struggling to expand due to a lack of trained specialist staff. We urge government bodies to continue to release more funding for CAMH crisis and community services and plan for an expanded and skilled workforce. We believe every young person in crisis should have access to a specialist to fully assess them in the evenings and at least triage them overnight, allowing many to go home for full assessment the next day.”

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