By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter
There are five potential events that could trigger the release of ringfenced funds for children’s mental health services in Lewisham.
The council is planning to cut £250,000 from its contribution to children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) as part of £28 million in cuts planned for the coming year.
After the plans emerged Lewisham’s children and young people’s select committee voted unanimously to ask mayor and cabinet to backtrack on the cut, a call backed by one member of the public accounts committee, Cllr Tauseef Anwar.
Campaign group Save Lewisham Hospital has also been lobbying the council not to take the cut, and continues to campaign against it.
Despite this, it looks likely that it will go ahead.
But following the concerns raised, the cabinet member for children and school’s performance announced that the £250,000 would be ringfenced as a contingency fund if there is a surge in need.
Last night at a meeting of the overview and scrutiny business panel, the chair of the CPY select committee, Cllr Luke Sorba, asked what would trigger the release of the funds and where the money would come from.
Director for children and young people Pinaki Ghoshal explained that the council is working on what would have to happen for the money to be released.
In relation to CAMHS, potential triggers include an increase in referrals to the service, a decrease in the acceptance of referrals, an increase in waiting times, an increase in wait from referral to assessment, and an increase in wait from assessment to treatment.
He said: “We’ve got the data in terms of what that looks like at the moment and we’ll want to design something so that we can track that on a monthly basis.”
Mr Ghoshal said that the figures would likely have to increase or decrease by 15 or 20 per cent to trigger the release of funds.
The council is also planning to invest in preventative care, working with schools, and early help.
The director said it’s more likely that there will be an increase in lower-level needs among children, that might not generate a CAMHS referral.
He added: “We’re currently working on a redesign of our referral processes in children’s services.
“At the moment that key referral point is MASH (multi-agency safeguarding hub).
“We want to build that into a wider point of access, including early help referrals, and also potentially emotional wellbeing referrals.”
It emerged that the funds, if released, will be taken from reserves until another cut can be made to replace them down the line.
David Austin, director of corporate services, said: “So if it’s not drawn, the cut will be made.
“If it is drawn by the service, given the criteria and the process that Pinaki set out, then it will need to be matched by reserves until such times as other cuts can be brought forward[…]”
The cabinet member for school performance and children’s services, Cllr Chris Barnham, previously said if there was a surge in need as a result of the pandemic, the council might be able to claim funds against central Government’s Covid grant.
But Mr Austin said that would only provide short-term relief.
“If we’re making a cut to the budget, the presumption is it’s ongoing year on year,” he said.
Cllr Sorba reiterated what he, Cllr Anwar, and Save Lewisham Hospital have said in previous meetings – that children’s mental needs are not currently being met.
Mr Ghoshal spoke about the pressure the council is under to make £28 million in cuts next year.
But repeated that the council is investing in early help and prevention.
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