The latest NHS figures show “open referrals” – troubled children and young people in England undergoing treatment or waiting to start care – reached 420,314 in February, the highest number since records began in 2016.
The total has risen by 147,853 since February 2020, a 54% increase, and by 80,096 over the last year alone, a jump of 24%. January’s tally of 411,132 cases was the first time the figure had topped 400,000.
Mental health charities welcomed the fact that an all-time high number of young people are receiving psychological support. But they fear the figures are the tip of the iceberg of the true number of people who need care, and that many more under-18s in distress are being denied help by arbitrary eligibility criteria.
“Open referrals” are under-18s who are being cared for by child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) or are waiting to see a specialist, having been assessed as needing help against treatment thresholds. GPs, teachers and mental health charities believe the criteria are too strict, exclude many who are deemed not ill enough, and amount to rationing of care.