Children are being denied specialist treatment at NHS mental health trusts in England unless they are severely mentally unwell, according to a Pulse investigation.

The GP news service revealed a third of NHS trusts only accept patients with ‘severe/significant’ conditions for specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Meanwhile, another Pulse survey of 935 GPs found nearly 30% said criteria for CAMHS referrals have become stricter in the past year.

Pulse said the lack of NHS specialist treatment on offer means mentally unwell children are often told to seek help from charities instead, but these services mostly don’t have doctors in place, instead offering counsellors. As a result, GPs have warned children are not getting the help they need and are being forced to wait until their condition escalates before being seen by a specialist.

In some cases their patients have to attempt suicide in order for their referral to be accepted by specialist CAMHS.

This is at a time when referrals for children’s mental health services are rising – up by 18% between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Jonathan Heatley, a GP in West Sussex, said: “One way to get to the system very quickly is to attempt suicide. Mental health services wash their hands. They just say it doesn’t meet our criteria’ but don’t suggest who does.”

Maddi Ridley, a GP in Essex, said: “Referrals come back saying they don’t meet the criteria and suggesting where the child or adult can get support locally from counselling services run by charities. But often they need a doctor or a psychiatrist and charities don’t have that option; it’s just trained counsellors. We’ve seen quite a number of deaths by suicide in teenage children in our area. Children are really struggling with mental health and we don’t have a lot to offer. These children do need professional help, there just doesn’t seem to be any facilities available within the NHS.”