Spending on NHS mental health services for children and young people in Lancashire is more than 20 percent below the national average.
It would take almost £5m of extra investment to bring the county up to that level, members of Lancashire’s Health and Wellbeing Board were told.
Figures also show that there is significant variation in the amounts spent in different parts of the region.
Blackpool’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area tops the spending list, with more than £68 allocated per head of the under-18 population. Greater Preston CCG spends around half that amount, with North Lancashire’s health bosses spending the least of all, at less than £30.
But there was a debate amongst members about whether the statistics should be a cause for concern.
Denis Gizzi, chief officer of Greater Preston and Chorley and South Ribble CCGs said that spending less was “not always a bad thing”.
“We have to compare it to the value we are getting. It’s possible to spend 20 percent less and get better outcomes - but we have to prove [if that is] the case,” he added.
And Dr. Tom Marland, clinical lead at Fylde and Wyre CCG, said that “compounding factors” meant that it was not always possible - or logical - to compare levels of spending.
“The figures are very stark, but they are just figures. Blackpool has inherent deprivation challenges and the population is very different to somewhere like Lancaster,” Dr. Marland said.
However, the outgoing executive director of children’s services at Lancashire County Council warned that the NHS in the region could not “shirk” the fact that it spent so much less on young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing services than the rest of the country.
“We cannot say it’s at least 20 percent less of an issue than it is elsewhere. We can’t keep listening to the same story, we need to do something,” John Readman said.
Meanwhile, members also heard that Lancashire was exceeding a national target for the percentage of youngsters receiving NHS help for a diagnosed mental health condition.
But Jill Simpson, programme lead for policy and commissioning at Lancashire County Council, said the measure was amongst the lowest ’access targets’ in the health service - standing at just 35 percent. Lancashire achieved 37 percent during 2017/18.
“We would like to see a much higher target,” she said. “We have got a lot of children and young people who aren’t accessing NHS-funded services.
“However, they may be getting help from their school or the voluntary sector,” Ms Simpson added.
Lancashire is almost halfway through a programme to redesign its mental health and emotional wellbeing service for under 18s. County hall’s head of service for policy and commissioning, Dave Carr, said work was underway to ensure that it was as accessible as possible.
“We’re hoping to see a service where you don't have to meet a threshold in order to get a response - it will be far broader and there will be more specialist interventions,” he said.