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Lib Dems warn 330k kids waiting for mental health support

More than 330,000 children are waiting to receive mental health support, the Liberal Democrats have warned, with average wait times in some areas of well over a year.

The party has published research by the House of Commons Library as it confirmed its manifesto would include a pledge to put a mental health professional in every primary and secondary school.

It comes after a Schools Week investigation revealed how suicidal children are being turned away from overstretched Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) with schools instead told to “keep them safe”.

It also comes after we revealed how a 2017 pledge to cut waiting times to four weeks appeared to be up in the air after a consultation on plans warned of “unintended consequences”.

Lib Dem members signed off on the £620 million mental health professionals policy at last year’s autumn conference.

The policy would be paid-for by trebling the digital services tax – a levy on the revenues of search engines, social media services and online marketplaces – raising £1.5 billion a year.

Labour has committed to putting a professional in every secondary, and giving all primary pupils access to one. The Conservatives have been providing mental health lead training and created mental health support teams.

‘Thousands left in limbo’

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “Thousands of children are being left in limbo, forced to suffer intolerably long-waits for mental health treatment. They are being failed by this Conservative government who have neglected the NHS and abandoned parents and children.

“Liberal Democrats would put a dedicated, qualified mental health professional in every school both primary and secondary, funded by a tax on the social media giants that are such a big part of the problem.”

The House of Commons Library research found that in the period between January and March this year, 336,886 children were waiting for their “second contact” with mental health services.

On average, they had been waiting 187 days, or just over six months, but average wait times varied hugely. In St Helens, the average wait was 444 days, while in Buckinghamshire it was 375 and in Warrington 371.

This compares to average waits of just 16 days in Blackburn and 26 in Basildon.

Such long waits are ‘disgraceful’

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL leaders’ union, said it was “absolutely disgraceful that children with complex mental health needs often face such long waits for specialist treatment”.

“This is despite the fact that the government announced in a green paper seven years ago that it was piloting four-week waiting times.

“We wholeheartedly support the idea of a mental health professional in every school. This would be a huge help to education staff in dealing with a rising tide of mental health and wellbeing issues.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said the policy “would help improve access to early help for children and young people”.

The mental health professionals policy formed part of a package of schools policies that it said would cost £6 billion. But Schools Week analysis at the time suggested the cost would be at least £9.3 billion.

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