Young hit hardest by England’s ‘community health crisis’

children's health
Bermix Studio

New data from NHS England has revealed that the waiting list for community health services has topped one million for the first time, with children and young people disproportionately affected by delays.

The figures released by the NHS Confederation and NHS Provider’s Community Network indicate that one in five of those waiting are children needing services like paediatrics, health visiting, and speech and language therapy, raising concerns about their development.

“We know that long waits can often impact outcomes for children more severely than adults because delays in assessment and treatment have a knock-on effect on communication skills, social development, and educational outcomes as well as their mental wellbeing,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

“We have a real and growing problem with long waits in community services, but, despite repeated warnings that neglect of these vital services is having a detrimental impact on patients, these warnings seem to be met with a shoulder shrug from government,” he added.

The organisations are calling for urgent cross-government action to finally get to grips with a “hidden but ever-growing crisis” in community health services, with nearly 14,000 children and young people waiting for over a year to be seen, and another 34,000 waiting 18 weeks or more.

Between October 2022 and August 2023, there was a 7% increase in the waiting list for community health services involving children, which include assessments for autism and developmental disorders.

There have been some improvements, including reduced waits for speech and language, occupational therapy, and support for long-term conditions, but other services like vision screening, orthotics, and community paediatric services are seeing rising delays that are outstripping any community health service for adults.

NHS Providers’ CEO, Sir Julian Hartley, said the figures show that too many children and young people risk falling through gaps, particularly after the pandemic.

“Community services are working flat out to see more people more quickly and making great progress in many areas, but demand for children and young people’s services is still stubbornly high - making it really hard for providers to turn the tide amid staffing shortages and without further support,” he added.

“Without more cross-government support and focus, lots of youngsters, their families, and carers will continue to be hit by long waits for the treatment and support they need.”

According to the latest figures, 72% of adults on the list have currently been waiting for up to three months, compared to 45% of children. The situation is reversed for 18-week delays, however, affecting 40% of children and 15% of adults.

The community health figures come shortly after the waiting list for elective procedures in England rose to a record 7.75 million, with another 760,000 in the queue in Wales.

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash.

20 October, 2023