Beds are in short supply at some mental health units for children and young people

Sixteen of 25 mental health trusts contacted within a 48 hour period replied to ITV News. Credit: Newscast/MIND

By Patrick Russell, Health and Science Producer

Imagine a world where a child is diagnosed with cancer and then denied treatment until their illness deteriorates further. Imagine a situation where a teenager in need of surgery is forced to drive hundreds of miles away from their family in search of a hospital bed. When it comes to mental healthcare this is often a reality, especially when it comes to children.

That's around three children in every class at school.

Last week, ITV News contacted all 25 mental health trusts in England with in-house units for children over a 48 hour period and asked them how many beds they had available for children in need of care.

Governments have continually promised to give equal priority to mental and physical health. So why are we in this situation?

Services are overloaded. Inpatient units designed to treat those grappling with the most severe illnesses cannot cope with the demand.

These services have been underfunded for years and this means there are simply not enough beds for everyone.A 2015 ITV News investigation with the charity Young Minds revealed £85 million had been cut from young peoples mental health budgets over the past five years.

At the same time, cuts to services designed to tackle mild symptoms mean young people can no longer access treatment before things become serious. This exasperates the situation. As local authority budgets are squeezed, so too is access to counselling services in schools or programs in youth centres designed to catch mental illness before things get worse.

Treatment programmes for illnesses like eating disorders have been forced to raise their threshold for mental health support in order to deal with this influx of patients. This means young people often have to get worse before they can get better. Early intervention is key to tackling mental illness and it avoids expensive long-term treatments the NHS cannot afford.

Last year, Grace Jeremy who has struggled with anorexia, told ITV News budget cuts were 'not good enough'. Credit: ITV News

The grim reality of a system failing to cope was laid bare last year when a taskforce of experts commissioned by the government to look at young people's mental healthcare reported increased referrals, longer wait times and increasingly severe symptoms experienced by patients. The coalition recognised the need for dramatic improvements and promised over a billion pounds extra by 2020. The current Conservative government have stuck to this funding pledge. So where is the money?

Every region in the country has submitted a local transformation plan designed to demonstrate how they will make use of part of this money. The plans will bring local services together to make it easier for children and young people to access high quality mental healthcare when they need it

NHS England believe this ambitious plan will transform all services across the system for children by 2020. The money however is yet to arrive in most areas. Charities like Young Minds argue that the cash is taking too long to trickle down into services that will help people.

Mental illness can isolate, frighten and disrupt the lives of young people. For those experiencing this and their families the money can not come soon enough.