Children and young people seeking mental health support in St Helens are waiting months on end to see someone, a new report has revealed.
North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust currently provide child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in St Helens.
Last November, the trust partnered with Barnardo’s and from January has operated on a sub-contract model to deliver the service.
Since then the service has been working to implement the ‘Thrive’ model, an integrated, needs-led approach to delivering mental health services for children, young people and families.
This week, councillors were given an update on the progress of the service.
According to a report presented to the council’s children and young people’s services overview and scrutiny panel, 33 families waited 12-18 weeks before they had their first face to face contact.
The majority (42) were seen between 6-12 weeks, while 39 were seen within six weeks.
Additionally, 13 families were seen after waiting longer than 18 weeks.
Tarnia Woods, North West Boroughs’ head of quality for children’s services in St Helens, said some of the longer waits are down to the patient cancelling or rearranging appointments.
Ms Woods insisted families are not left with no support during this time, with families often being contacted by a clinician by phone.
Former deputy council leader Andy Bowden said he was “not convinced” a telephone conversation can replace a face to face meeting, adding that he did not think this meets the needs of a child.
Ms Woods said there a high demand for the service, adding that it is the ambition to see all families within six weeks.
Labour’s Trisha Long, chairman of the children and young people’s services overview and scrutiny panel, said the long waiting times are a “terrible burden”.
Coun Long said: “Not wanting to be sensational, but the total amount of waiting times by families for that haven of a first face to face contact adds up in total to at least 24 years.
“To my way of thinking, this is a terrible burden of waiting borne by vulnerable resident of St Helens.
“It’s a critical time in children’s development and I don’t think any of us are comfortable with the implications.
“I understand it isn’t the staff’s fault and I understand the way the money is allocated, but to me there is something fundamentally the matter when our most in need children and young people are kept waiting for that haven of a first contact. And we as a society need to make this work.”
In response, Kersten Roberts, head of operations for children’s services for North West Boroughs, said: “We fundamentally agree with what you are saying.
“From our perspective we don’t want to see any children and young people waiting to access services.
“In terms of some of the things we do for those young people who are unfortunately waiting, we have processes in place to ensure that we are regularly looking into that to ensure we’re able to keep those families safe.”
Ms Roberts said the service works closely with schools to ensure it is “appropriately” supporting the health and wellbeing needs of the school.
She said a number of meetings have been held throughout the year, with the emotional health and wellbeing of pupils “very high on the agenda”.
Several councillors, including Liberal Democrat group leader Teresa Sims, aired frustrations that an action plan was not presented to the panel, something members had requested at a meeting in April.
The April meeting was held between elected members and representatives of North West Boroughs following some concerns from families.
Ms Roberts apologised to the panel, saying the request had been “lost in translation” and assured councillors there is an action plan currently in place.
Coun Bowden, ward member for Parr, said: “Obviously some frustrations have been expressed around the table that from a meeting five months ago to this point, this isn’t quite what we were after, so members are frustrated.
“To put that into context, that’s how long some of our people are waiting to receive their first visit.
“So, imagine how frustrated, upset and anxious those parents are.
“Never mind the child themselves who’s at a point of crisis.”
The panel agreed to formally request an action plan on the CAMHS service be sent to members and that Ms Roberts and Ms Woods attend its next meeting in December.