Last reviewed 14 January 2020

The British Medical Association (BMA) has called for a new "minimum investment standard" for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to be introduced by NHS England.

The BMA has recommended the standard in order to ensure local commissioners do not spend funding for CAMHS elsewhere. This follows a report that showed GPs are feeling "helpless and frustrated" because NHS mental health services are at breaking point while patient demand is soaring.

The BMA said the shortage of services has left GPs feeling helpless because support for vulnerable patients was "incredibly hard to come by".

According to the BMA report on a poll of 1000 staff, conducted in association with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Association of Clinical Psychologists (ACPsych), more than half of mental healthcare professionals said they were "too busy to provide the care they would like to be able to give"; 44% said they felt demoralised and the same proportion reported that their workload was unmanageable.

These findings come just days after a separate poll found that three quarters of GPs believed CAMHS had deteriorated in the past year and that more than half of 11- to 18-year-olds referred to the service by GPs were rejected for treatment.

BMA Mental Health Policy Lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said: "This study highlights the very serious problems facing the mental health sector with a workforce near to breaking point. There are desperate shortages of care staff of all types across mental health, with doctors and nurses on the frontline overworked and demoralised and patient care is suffering as a result.

"Mental healthcare accounts for 25% of all healthcare activity and yet our funding settlement stands at around 14% of healthcare spending at best. This is not right and has to improve. There must be a step-change in the Government’s approach to ensure we move beyond just 'parity of esteem' for physical and mental health."

BMA General Practitioners Committee (GPC) Chair Dr Richard Vautrey said we must start seeing mental and physical health as equal with the same level of resources made available to mental health services, "both within GP surgeries and throughout the wider community".

He added: "Without this, GPs are left feeling helpless and frustrated, but those who are most vulnerable are also left feeling unsafe and unsupported, and that has to change."

Mental health charity Mind Vicki Nash commented: "We know that particularly for young people, timely and appropriate help can prevent further issues in later life. Too often the NHS is failing to provide this."

The Department of Health and Social care responded saying it was a key priority for this Government to expand the mental health workforce to meet rising demand on services and ensure patients receive the best treatment.

The NHS says it is planning to increase spending on mental health services more quickly than the overall NHS budget, which it says will be "worth at least £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24".