More parents could turn to private sector as NHS mental health support 'overwhelmed', GP warns

More parents to turn to private sector for help as NHS 'overwhelmed', GP from Coventry warns following latest mental health report

A doctor has told ITV News Central the current two-year waiting time for children to access mental health support (CAMHS) is "ludicrous".

Dr Nishan Viratunga, who is from Coventry, fears more parents could end up turning to the private sector to help their children's mental health as NHS services are currently "overwhelmed".

Speaking to ITV News Central Reporter Andy Bevan, Dr Viratunga said: "Two years is what the waiting time is now, which is ludicrous.

"And you’ll see more and more people turning to the private sector to try and seek help, which is already happening."

Dr Viratunga continued: "A lot of people can’t afford the private sector but out of desperation they are turning to the private sector and I think that’s what we will see."

His comments come as a new report found children's mental health has become worse.

Dr Nishan Viratunga says mental wellbeing needs to be taught in schools

A recent report by the Health and Social Care Committee concluded the scale of mental ill health among children was growing before the pandemic, and things have only become worse since.

MPs found that despite progress in numbers of young people receiving treatment, it was unacceptable more than half with a diagnosable condition pre-pandemic do not receive the mental health support they need.

Estimates suggest around one in six young people had a diagnosable mental health disorder in 2020, up from one in nine in 2017.

MPs also highlighted concerns over: funding of mental health services including mental health support teams in schools; issues with crisis care and inpatient stays; and concerns over workforce issues.

Dr Viratunga said: "I think mental well-being is something which is not really taught at any level and I think this needs to be a part of a child's education.

"How do we look after one's self? How do you guard your mental well-being?

"What steps can you take when life becomes stressful because life will become stressful?"

The Children's and Young Peoples report found that new Mental Health Support Teams in schools offered a valuable opportunity to identify those beginning to experience problems with their mental health.

Credit: PA

According to Dr Viratunga, the mental health support currently on offer for children will only get worse if services aren't focused on schools and local communities.

He said while "the report itself is positive... it all depends whether the report can actually translate into reality".

When asked about the future, he said: "You will see the CAHM service being overwhelmed, just as it is now, with more and more people and waiting times getting longer and longer.

"Therefore, you need to aim downstream - aim the services at schools, in communities.

"Make access to these services as easy as possible for both parents and for students and kids."

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, said: "Partly because of the pandemic, we are seeing demand for mental health treatment pushing NHS services to breaking point.

"Whilst we recognise that capacity to provide such services is increasing, we are not convinced it is happening at a fast enough rate.

"There is a growing risk that elective and emergency care pressures will mean mental health services once again become the poor relation.

"Our report uncovers good progress in schools provision but a continuing failure to find community care for too many young people who end up in inappropriate secure provision that makes their illness even worse."

However, MPs said there was no funding to roll them out nationally in the recent Spending Review settlement and that current plans lack ambition.

Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help

  • Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at

  • Papyrus offer support for children and young people under the age of 35 over the phone on 0800 068 41 41 between 9am – midnight every day of the year. If you would rather text you can do so on 07786 209697 or send an email to

  • Rethink Mental Illness offer practical advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems on a wide range of topics including treatment, support and care. Phone 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm) or visit

  • Mind also offer mental health support between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. You can call them on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463. There is also lots of information available on their website.

  • Campaign Against Living Miserably's (CALM) helpline and webchat are open from 5pm until midnight, 365 days a year. Call CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or chat to their trained helpline staff onlineNo matter who you are or what you're going through, it's free, anonymous and confidential.

If you have an emergency and a life is in danger, contact the emergency services on 999.