PMHA at the party conferences

Max Davie, PMHA convenor, reflects on the party conferences:


For the past few weeks, I’ve been roaming the country with the RCPCH public affairs team. We’ve been talking about children and young people’s mental health at fringe meetings at the three major party conferences, along with colleagues from the RC Psych and the charity Young Minds. I’ve been able to talk to people from around the country about the problems with CAMHS, and discuss some possible solutions. For the benefit of PMHA members, here are some thematic reflections on the problems:

  • There isn’t enough money in the system

While there had been no concerted attempt to cut CAMHS, the brute reality of NHS and local authority funding has led to unprecedented reductions in budgets, by up to 40% in 4 years. This is in part due a lack of clear tariffs and targets, because in the NHS “money follows targets”. An understandable retreat by local authorities into their ‘core business’ has compounded matters.

  • We think of CAMHS services, when we should be thinking about a local CAMHS system.

Services have, in response to cuts, raised the drawbridge to referrals, and shrunk their scope. Paradoxically, once children are in services, there are perverse incentives to pass then to ever more expensive echelons of the system. Meanwhile, other children and young people are lost between services as they don’t ‘fit’ anywhere. Only by re-imagining CAMHS as a comprehensive system, supported by specialists and incorporating education, health, social care and the charitable sector, can we maximise our resources.

  • Early intervention needs more priority

More lucrative specialist services have been prioritised by cash-strapped mental health trusts, but parenting programmes and universal mental health education for children are low cost, effective interventions which need political priority.

  •  Professional cultures need to be more collaborative and inclusive

There is a pervasive myth that mental health can only be done by specialist CAMHS. This is encouraged by lack of engagement by many CAMHS services with the wider system. This leads not only to poor integration, but also another lost opportunity for early intervention outside of specialist CAMHS.

  •  Parity of esteem needs to be more than just a phrase

Many of my first points can be encapsulated in this: parity was enshrined in the health and social care act, and yet mental health continues to be a poor relation of physical health. Recent policy announcements, especially by the liberal democrats, are welcome, but a robust plan is required to embed parity across the NHS.

  •  No CAMHS system will serve children and young people unless it listens to these young people

The best speech I heard at our meetings was by Lisa Murphy, from the RCPCH youth panel, who talked passionately about the need for a responsive system which listened and respected young people as individuals. How we achieve this while embedding robust commissioning and manage a continuing squeeze on finances is the challenge of the next five years.

 It was fascinating to visit the conferences, with their bustle, intrigue and hubbub of chat and speeches. Mental health had never been higher up the political agenda, and we hope that we have played a small part in keeping this vital issue somewhat at the forefront of politicians’ minds.


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