West Sussex mental health services are ‘underfunded and overstretched’

The number of under 18 year olds referred to mental health services in West Sussex is at a five-year high, according to figures released by the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Following a Freedom of Information request by this paper, the mental health trust revealed the total number of referrals for all age groups in West Sussex in 2013 and 2018 was 31,295 and 38,350 – an increase of 22.5 per cent.

The number of people aged under 18 being referred to mental health services  ''           has been increasing. The Young Minds charity said pressures like exams can have an impact on mental health. Stuttershock image

The number of people aged under 18 being referred to mental health services '' has been increasing. The Young Minds charity said pressures like exams can have an impact on mental health. Stuttershock image

Looking at the statistics for under 18 year olds in the county, the figures show a big rise in the number of referrals in the five-year period from 2013 to 2018 – going from 5,684 up to 6,436 – a 13.2 per cent increase.

In 2016, the figure was 5,595; in 2017 it jumped to 6,290; then in 2018 it hit the highest in five years at 6,436.

See also: Six triggers of stress and depression in children and how you can help

Major review of young people services to take place

Rick Fraser, chief medical officer at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Rick Fraser, chief medical officer at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

After analysing the figures, this paper spoke to the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s chief medical officer Rick Fraser.

He revealed the trust was in the process of overseeing a ‘major review’ of its child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs).

He added: “Nationally, year on year, there is an increase in demand for CAMH services but they are stretched. Part of the overall rise is due to the increase in CAMH referrals.

“People like me are responsible for helping design services. We have to make sure the services are fit for purpose and put our efforts into upgrading our CAMH services. People who use the services tell us CAMHs are good once you are in but getting in is difficult. That is partly because of its capacity to see all the people coming their way.”

Matt Blow, policy manager at Young Minds

Matt Blow, policy manager at Young Minds

Dr Fraser said the trust is also ‘looking to increase the funding that we have to spend on our children’s services’.

“CAMHs and learning disabilities have not been funded as well as general mental health, which is still only 12 per cent of spend,” he said.

"The figures show there has been improved access but the challenge for us as a provider is whether we can meet that need. Mental health services are underfunded and overstretched. We have our own clinical strategy within the trust to deal with it and to make the best use of the money and resources we have. That aside, we are still underfunded compared to physical health care. We know people with severe mental health problems will die up to 20 years earlier than people without.”

According to the trust’s figures, Chichester was the only area in West Sussex to have seen a decrease in overall referrals between 2017 and 2018 (7,943 to 7,908) – a decrease of 0.44 per cent.

Referrals in Worthing went from 11,776 up to 11,879 between 2017 and 2018 – an increase of 0.87 per cent.


The Crawley, Horsham and Mid-Sussex area saw the largest increase between 2017 and 2018, going from 15,083 up to 16,353 – an increase of 8.42 per cent.

'People should seek help sooner rather than later and not when they are in crisis'

However, looking at the five-year picture, all areas have seen significant increases.

In Chichester from 2013 to 2018, it went from 7,289 to 7,908 (8.5 per cent increase).

In Worthing, it went from 9,801 to 11,879 (21.2 per cent increase). In Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex, it went from 12,283 to 16,353 (33.1 per cent increase).

According to Dr Fraser, the solution will come ‘once we get that funding disparity addressed’ and urged mental health sufferers to seek help as soon as possible.

He added: “Part of that is raising awareness so people know there is an issue, whilst also reducing stigma so people do go and seek help sooner rather than later and don’t present it when they are in crisis. They should go when they get the first niggles of a problem.”

Dr Fraser said the future for mental health providers lies with early intervention and a better intervention strategy.

He went on to highlight the following: “Prevention, home treatment and rapid response so people don’t have to wait and can get into services quickly and get the help they need at an early stage. Some illnesses can evolve and get more difficult to treat which can lead to crisis and hospital admissions.”

On a positive note, Dr Fraser said the suicide rate in West Sussex is below national average and life expectancy is higher than average.

“We haven’t got a county crisis in terms of mental health at all,” he added.

West Sussex County Council said it is providing ‘funded care packages’ to approximately 450 people who have mental health needs, as well as ‘many others’ through professional support and advice.

A spokesman added: “We provide social care services for people with mental health needs in an integrated service with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. These include, care and support at home, and helping people to manage their own health and wellbeing so that they can live independently and occasionally residential care.

“This help is delivered by social workers, approved mental health professionals and support workers, all of whom work as part of integrated teams with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.”

More older people than other parts of the world

Commenting on the figures for the older generation, which show a 1.82 per cent rise in the number of referrals in over 65s between 2013 and 2018 (9,961 up to 10,142), Dr Fraser put it down to the growth in the elderly community.

“The number of referrals into dementia services and memory assessments are on the increase because we have got more and more people of an older age in West Sussex,” he said.

“The demographic in West Sussex shows we are expecting an increase in the over 70s in the next ten years to rival only Japan. We’ve got a higher number of older people in West Sussex than other parts in the country and indeed, other parts of the world. People come to the south coast to retire. The older you live, the more chance you have of developing dementia and greater the need those services have.”

Referring back to plans for a major review in CAMH services, Dr Fraser spoke of some of the changes being implemented as part of a similar review of its older people services. He said:

“We have already completed a major review of our older people’s services and are making some significant changes to the way they are structured and to its leadership. We are talking with our commissioners and other partner organisations across the whole Sussex footprint.”

l There are CAMHs teams based in Chichester, Worthing and Horsham. For more information, visit www.sussexpartnership.nhs.uk

‘Young people facing pressures’

Young Minds, the ‘leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health in the UK’, has provided an insight into the West Sussex referral statistics.

Policy manager Matt Blow said: “While the reasons behind mental health problems developing are multiple and complex, we know that young people today face a wide range of pressures.

“Difficult experiences in childhood, like growing up in poverty or experiencing abuse or neglect, can have a huge impact on mental health but there are also new pressures that have emerged in recent years.”

Mr Blow also pointed to the impact of exam results.

He added: “The education system now places a greater emphasis than ever on exam results, while the rise of social media can make problems like bullying or body image issues more intense than they were in the past.

“We hear from young people and their parents every day who are left on long waiting lists or turned away from accessing support due to high thresholds.

“The government has promised welcome extra investment to young people’s mental health services, which must make a real difference to front line services – but we also need to see action so children and young people can get early support in their communities before their problems escalate.”

People can text the YoungMinds crisis messenger, for free 24/7 support by sending YM to 85258. Concerned parents can call 0808 802 5544.