© 2020 The Author(s). Background: In many high-income countries, primary care practitioners are the main point of referral for specialist mental health services. In England, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are increasingly adopting a Single Point of Access (SPA) to streamline referrals and introduce self and parent/carer-referrals. This involves a significant shift of responsibility from primary care towards CAMHS who adopt a more active role as gatekeeper for their service. This study evaluates the adoption of a SPA in CAMHS across a large region in England. Methods: We conducted an observational mixed methods study in two CAMHS from January 2018 to March 2019 to evaluate the adoption of a SPA. We collected quantitative data from electronic patient records and qualitative data through ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews of staff and stakeholders with experience of using CAMHS. Additional data on volumes was shared directly from the SPAs and a further snapshot of 1 week's users was collected. Results: A similar SPA model emerged across the two services. Staff were positive about what the model could achieve and access rates grew quickly following awareness-raising activities. Despite the initial focus being on a telephone line, online referrals became the more regularly used referral method. Increased access brought challenges in terms of resourcing, including identifying the right staff for the role of call handlers. A further challenge was to impose consistency on triage decisions, which required structured information collection during the assessment process. Similar to GP referrals, those self-referring via the SPA were mainly from the least deprived areas. Conclusions: The introduction of a SPA has the potential to improve young people's access to mental health services. By addressing some of the barriers to access, simplifying where to go to get help and making it easier to contact the service directly, a SPA can help more individuals and families access timely support. However, the introduction of a SPA does not in itself expand the capacity of CAMHS, and therefore expectations within services and across sectors need to be tempered accordingly. SPA services providing different referral approaches can further improve access for the harder to reach populations.
BMC Health Services Research