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Thursday, 18 December 2014

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Cumbria families’ fears over mental health needs

SEVEN in ten families in Cumbria have not been able to access mental health support in times of crisis, worrying new figures reveal.

Statistics released by the Furness branch of the National Autistic Society following a survey of 128 families paint a disturbing picture.

They have led parents of children with autism to criticise the county’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for failing to meet their needs.

The figures reveal one in five families had to wait more than five months to receive an appointment after being referred to the service from other agencies.

Half of the parents polled were also concerned that professionals did not have an adequate understanding of autism and did not know how to communicate effectively with their child.

It is estimated that 71 per cent of children with autism have an accompanying mental health problem, which is why support by CAMHS is vital for a child’s emotional wellbeing.

Emma Shepherd, NAS policy and participation Officer for the North, said the survey results were worrying.

She said: “Local families have sent a clear message that CAMHS in Cumbria is not meeting the mental health needs of local children affected by autism.

“We recognise that CAMHS in Cumbria, like other public services, are under pressure, and appreciate that they are struggling to recruit staff but it’s vital that these problems are addressed as soon as possible and before children fall into crisis.

“As well as bringing down waiting lists, CAHMS in Cumbria must provide more autism training for staff and take on more autism specialists so that staff are able to recognise the needs of children with autism, communicate with them and treat them effectively.”

Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust admits a waiting list for diagnosis and appointments has built up. The trust has also reported difficulties in recruiting staff for CAHMS.

Dr Neela Shabde, clinical director for children and families at NHS Cumbria Clinical Commission Group, said several improvements were being carried out to the service.

She said: “There are long-standing concerns with the provision of CAMHS in Cumbria that were identified in a 2012 review.

“Since then, a major investment of time, energy and finance has followed.

“The tier three CAMH service (specialist multi-disciplinary teams) is now staffed at the level recommended in the review and the mix of skills has been enhanced significantly.

“However, change on this scale inevitably takes time to bed in and clearly there is some way to go before everyone who needs a service from CAMHS gets the service they need and would like.”

Consumer health champion Healthwatch Cumbria has also been alerted to the situation and is looking into possible responses.

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