James Sunderland calls for extra investment in children’s mental health services

James Sunderland calls on the Government to invest in special educational needs and mental health provision for children as never before, for every local authority to review their SEND provision, and for a focus on reducing waiting times for an assessment by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve before you, Ms Fovargue. I commend my constituency neighbour in Berkshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), for securing the debate. I also pass on the best wishes of our right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who regrets that she cannot be here today. She asked me to point out that she fully supports every effort to increase the provision of mental health support for children in Berkshire and beyond. Finally, I want to welcome Dr Priya Singh, who is the new chief executive of the Frimley integrated care system and who I met yesterday to discuss this issue.

Time is short but, in brief, local NHS CCGs spent £12 billion in 2020-21 on mental health support. NHS England spent a further £2 billion, making a total of just over £14 billion. That is great, but I was horrified to learn that CCGs spent 14 times more on adult mental health support than on services for children. We need to invest much more heavily in that area.

East Berkshire, where I reside, has £2.6 million in funding for children’s mental health, including £1.4 million for CAMHS and £200,000 for eating disorders. That is not enough, which is my opening contention to the Minister. The Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, based in Bracknell, does a fantastic job, but the demand for mental health assessment in children has gone up by 60% in the past five years. Since the pandemic, it has gone up by a further 27%. We have a problem. A constituent wrote to me only yesterday to tell me that the current wait for a child to be seen by CAMHS is 30 months; prior to the pandemic it was 18 months. Families are being left unsupported at this time.

As politicians, we spend lots of time admiring the problem, but perhaps not enough time thinking about the solution. What do we need to do? The first thing I would say to the Minister is that the SEND review is still awaited. It was promised last year and has failed to materialise. Will she please ensure that we get it as soon as possible? We also need to invest in our children with SEND as never before. That requires money, patience, determination and a much clearer Government strategy.

Why might that work? By providing the right care in the right settings we can give our children the focus they need to be productive, employable, law-abiding and responsible citizens. Prisons are sadly full of people who have made the wrong decisions or acted impulsively, perhaps because they were not diagnosed at an early age. Let us invest in more specialist educational settings, so that people’s needs can be addressed. Yes, that is expensive and resource-heavy, but the cost of not doing so will always be greater, and this is non-discretionary spending.

I would like to see every local authority in the UK comprehensively reviewing its SEND provision, so that it becomes available in every area. Specialist and dedicated settings are the way forward for those who need them. We need to give our teachers better training with education, health and care plans. Those should not become a magic bullet—a passport for the lucky few—but a rightful passport for every child to get the support they need.

Lastly, CAMHS across the UK need 20,000 volts put straight through them. For families to wait two and a half years for a consultation is not only immoral but frankly inept. The irony will not have escaped anybody here that a GP cannot prescribe medication for ASD, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, Asperger’s or any other mental health condition, without a diagnosis from CAMHS. We have to focus on CAMHS right now.

To conclude, let us please get spending, diagnosing and treating, and let us give all our children, not least in Berkshire, the future they deserve.