Lockdown sees rise in children with mental health issues

Redbridge mental health services are seeing a “disturbing” rise in under-fives needing treatment during lockdown.

At a meeting of Redbridge Council’s health and wellbeing board meeting on March 1, one councillor predicted there will be “a tsunami” of young people needing treatment in the coming months due to the pandemic.

Redbridge’s mental health service, run by the NHS North East London Foundation Trust, is still struggling to recruit enough staff to run the service, even after correcting its “historically” low funding.

The council’s integrated care director, Bob Edwards, reassured the board that the service should still be “reasonably well-resourced” to tackle the anticipated rise in referrals.

Cllr Joyce Ryan (Con, Fairlop) said: “It’s very disturbing that you are getting so many under-fives. I’m sure a lot of it is because they are not relating to their peers and not mixing.

“With young people, mental health is going to be a tsunami. What we need is permanent staff who can build relationships.”

Mr Edwards confirmed many of the under-fives are new to the service, having not needed treatment before the pandemic, and that they are seeing “quite a lot of behavioural concerns”.

He speculated that additional pressure on GP services means the mental health team may be seeing more children who might otherwise see a family doctor, adding: “As services go back to normal, we will probably see a decrease.”

A report prepared for the board noted the borough’s service “historically had a lower level of funding than that of other adjacent services in other boroughs” but is “now fully funded”.

However, despite correcting this funding gap and agreeing to pay above the normal NHS salary, it is “still struggling to recruit on either a permanent or locum basis” and needs the equivalent of almost ten more permanent staff.

The report notes: “During the second wave of Covid, given the high rates of infection locally, north east London has struggled to recruit staff overall… (and) the market for CAMHS trained staff is competitive.

“We are paying above the usual rate for staff to join the service… (but) it is still challenging to find staff with the appropriate skills, who are willing to come to the service at the present time.

“We would hope as the pandemic eases that we will see more staff willing to join the service.”

Referrals to the Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service (CAMHS) dropped sharply in the first wave of the pandemic but rose again after schools reopened in September.

Mr Edwards noted that the service hopes to work “more in partnership” with schools and views supporting children “as a joint process”.

Last November, the inquest for an Ilford 15-year-old who ended his life in June last year found poor communication had left his school, who made strenuous efforts to protect him, in the dark about his discharge.

Following his death, the trust, which deemed him “low risk” despite the school’s concerns, committed to ensuring it notifies referrers if a patient is discharged.

Clinical psychologist Dr Romena Toki told the court: “I will try my best to stay in touch and communicate with external agencies to make sure plans are in place.

“It was just such an unfortunate time (because of lockdown), otherwise we would have been seeing him face to face.”

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter