Concerns have been raised over years-long waiting times for children to be able to access mental health services in Reading and the wider area.

Waits are particularly long for diagnosing young people with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with health professional Tom Lake saying that children can be waiting over two years for a diagnosis.

Mr Lake raised the alarm about the long waiting times at a meeting of Reading Borough Council’s health and wellbeing board, and called for health authorities in the area to immediately investigate the situation and conduct urgent review into commissioning for mental health services for children and young people.

He said: “It’s well known that waits for diagnosis can be over two years for these conditions.

“In particular, symptoms of anxiety and depression for children on the very long waiting lists for ADHD or autistic disorders can be dismissed as due to the very condition for which they have not been diagnosed, and they may not receive any support for these while they wait.

“Even when acute anxiety is acknowledged, where children may be exhibiting suicidal actions, waits for treatment can be 12 months, leading to extensive suffering and loss of normal life opportunities.

“Children are losing the education to which they have a right.”

Mr Lake, elected governor at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which provides mental health and community services in the county.

His call for an investigation into waiting times and review of how services are commissioned was addressed by Dr Andy Ciecierski of the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is in charge of spending and organising healthcare services in Reading, Wokingham Borough and West Berkshire.

Dr Ciecierski explained a review had already been undertaken in 2020-21, that has been laid out in a local transformation plan, but he did admit waiting times are ‘unacceptable’.

He said: “Waiting times to access both assessment and treatment from specialists Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) remains higher than acceptable across the country, and the situation in Berkshire is no different.”

Dr Ciecierski added waiting times were so long due to two reasons: a large 65 per cent increase in referalls and a decline in staff numbers.

He explained NHS England had set a target to give 164,000 people access to NHS mental health services and cut down waiting times to four weeks from a request.

This work is being done as part of a pilot scheme, but Berkshire West is not part of it.

Dr Ciecierski  then gave a long list of measures the CCG is taking to improve access to mental health services for children and young people.

The CCG has established three mental health support teams in the councils it covers, serving approximately 8000 pupils per school term.

Furthermore, the CCG has reissued the ‘little book of sunshine’ into schools, which can also be accessed online.

Berkshire West CCG has also commissioned charities Autism Berkshire and No 5 to undertake youth counselling and provide therapy.

The answer was given at a meeting of the council’s health and wellbeing board on Friday, March 18.