25,000 referrals in three years for children's mental health support
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Fresh concerns have been raised over children's mental health demand after shock new data has revealed there were 25,000 referrals to a children's mental health hub in Suffolk in just three years - around 170 youngsters per week.
The Suffolk Emotional Wellbeing Hub (EWH) was formed in March 2018 to be the central point of contact for those aged up to 25-years-old in need of emotional or mental health support.
Data published under Freedom of Information laws has now revealed that up to the beginning of May 2021 there have been 25,127 referrals through the hub - an average of around 170 youngsters per week or 24 a day.
At its most critical in January last year, more than 900 referrals were made in a single month.
At the beginning of this month, there were more than 1,900 youngsters who were waiting for triage, according to the data.
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The figures have provided a stark snapshot of demand levels in the county for specialist services, and concerns about the waiting times some families have been facing.
Bec Jasper from Parents and Carers Together (PACT) - an organisation which helps support and signpost families experiencing mental health needs in youngsters, said: "It's unsurprising but extremely saddening to see these numbers - especially when we know that the children and young people's Emotional Wellbeing Hub was designed to prevent waiting lists and to signpost quickly and efficiently to the best and most appropriate services.
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"We understand that many parents are still not receiving any signposting to relevant local support organisations to help them during their wait.
"This can be six months or more in some cases, which we do find upsetting knowing how isolating and stressful this time is for parents in terms of supporting their child or young person with no help.
"There is a massive gap in terms of appropriate services for children and young people and frequently, once a child has had a triage assessment, they are then turned away as they don't meet the criteria.
"This should never happen. The EWH was created to ensure there would be a service for all children referred to them."
The hub utilises a team of professionals from various organisations with the aim of helping get youngsters the correct support at the earliest opportunity, as well as simplify the complex pathways to care.
However, PACT said it fears that the numbers needing support are not reducing and may not be receiving timely or appropriate support. Uncertainty also remains over whether the long-term impact of Covid-19 on youngsters will increase demand, too.
A spokeswoman from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, as well as the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, said: "Nationally, we are seeing more young people and parents are asking for support than before the pandemic. This has been matched with a steady increase in referrals to the Emotional Wellbeing Hub since January.
"We are working together to find new ways to make sure people waiting for assessment and treatment are getting regular contact while they wait. We all want every young person who needs help for their mental wellbeing to get it as quickly as possible.
“We quickly increased staff numbers working at the hub and will be recruiting more to ensure initial assessment is as swift as possible.
“Extra investment is also planned by commissioners to boost treatment and support times, such as an extra £500,000 for eating disorder services.”
Demand for the hub quickly soared after its inception, and additional resources were needed within a year when a backlog of cases was already forming.
However, families with a youngster in need of support have been urged to contact the hub so that support can be sought at the earliest opportunity, while PACT has also said it can signpost families to services, too.