May 24, 2016 11:10 AM

One in four Devon children referred for mental health treatment is waiting longer than the Government's 18 week target, information uncovered by the County's Liberal Democrats reveals.

In total, 157 children and young people across the Devon County Council area are waiting longer than they should for treatment, with a further 479 still waiting within the 18 week limit.

"It's an absolute scandal", says Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on the county council. "We've now got a picture of what is happening to children and young people waiting for treatment after they've been referred by their doctor. If this was an illness, such as cancer, no-one would expect children to wait longer than absolutely necessary to see the specialist. Why then, are 157 Devon children forced to wait to see a psychiatrist or specialist mental health clinician,".

Barnstaple North County Councillor Brian Greenslade, who serves on Devon's Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee said: "This is why the Liberal Democrats have been right to call for greater priority to be given to mental health services. This performance figure for Devon is really worrying and needs deeper scrutiny in light of the "success regime" looking at health services in the county. Mental Health services need more investment not less."

In its own report, the North, East & West Devon clinical commissioning group, responsible for buying NHS care from hospitals and trusts for residents, says "...waiting times (are) unacceptably long for routine referrals to be seen and commence treatment. The experience of caring for a child who is mentally unwell will be extremely challenging and waits will have the perception of being longer in the life of a child with a feeling of abandonment and isolation".

Mental health services for children in Devon are provided by Virgin Care, which has clinical and administrative bases in Exeter.

Virgin's own website says: "Once the request for help from CAMHS has been accepted, you will be offered an initial assessment either urgently (within 7 days) or within 6 weeks.....Sometimes a single appointment is all that is needed, but if you do need a series of appointments we will assign a clinician with the appropriate skills and work in partnership with you. Sometimes more specialist intervention is needed and we will discuss this with you so that you are clear about what happens next. Follow up appointments should be offered within 18 weeks of referral."

Jointly, the NHS and Devon County Council purchase children and adolescent mental health services in the county using Virgin Care.

The number of young patients waiting for mental health treatment longer than the 18 week standard has been erratic for the past 12 months information presented to Devon County councillors this month shows. In April last year 75% of patients were seen within the target, that crashed to 66% in November and by the end of March, managers say it had gone up to 84%.

"The fact is that children are waiting too long for mental health treatment. We wouldn't accept it for other illnesses. We need to make sure all children are seen quickly, certainly within the 18 week target and ideally, quicker than that," said Cllr Connett.

CAMHS = Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services