Barbara Rayment, interim policy lead, Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition comments on the proposal to test a new waiting time standard in the Green Paper ‘‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”

If implemented properly, waiting time standards for children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS) could drive improvement nationally and put meeting the demand for CYPMHS on an equal footing with other areas of health.

The greater clarity and transparency targets should bring could also help reverse the postcode lottery for accessing services. The Green Paper’s proposals will see these new waiting time standards piloted in a couple of areas at first. A careful introduction and testing process is important, but it must lead to wider change. We are yet to see a strong commitment and plan for national implementation.

There is also a lack of clarity around whether the waiting time standard is only to be applied in NHS-provided CYPMHS, or if it will also include other services such as those operated by the voluntary and community sector that are funded by the NHS. The help young people receive is both a matter of choice, and local service availability. That’s why, as a minimum, we need to see commitment to testing this new standard in all relevant NHS-funded settings.

Ideally the pilots will also include relevant services funded through both schools and local authorities – reflecting the complexity of funding arrangements of current provision. An effective waiting time standard will demand the whole system plays its part.

The pilot will also need to dive into the depth and complexity of what a young person’s interaction with mental health support involves. We need to look beyond measuring only the point at which they have “access to treatment” by also measuring things such as the time it takes for first contact with a service through to general advice, an assessment, as well as any specialist intervention.

Good data collection is critical to transforming access to services. This means making sure services have the resources and capacity to properly measure and account for their work. This cannot be an afterthought and must be factored into the implementation costs from the outset.