More than 1,500 children and young people were referred to mental health services in Southampton last year, NHS figures have revealed.

Leaders have now asked for the government and local authorities to do more to protect children from mental health problems which may have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

NHS digital data shows that in 2019-20, 1,725 under-18s were referred to NHS mental health services in Southampton.

This was a 12% increase on the previous year, when 1,540 children were referred.

Encouragingly though, the average number of waiting days has fallen from 97 to 52.

Of the total number of children referred to mental health services, 495 were seen within six weeks – however 205 children had to wait longer than 12 weeks.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England is urging the government to introduce an NHS-funded counsellor for every school among fears that thousands of children are being left without support.

Labour MP for Southampton Test, Alan Whitehead said: “Children’s mental health is going to be a key element of our recovery from the pandemic because of the loss of access to friends, schools, strains in the home.

“Putting counsellors in schools - or allowing access to online services, seems to me like a sensible thing to do.”

Royston Smith, Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen said: “It was entirely predicable that people’s mental health would suffer during lockdown.

“It’s not unreasonable to expect there to be access to mental health professionals in schools, whether it’s an individual or online.”

The Daily Echo contacted Southampton City Council for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Anne Longfield added: “Even before the Covid pandemic, we faced an epidemic of children’s mental health problems in England and a children’s mental health service that, though improving significantly, was still unable to provide the help hundreds of thousands of children required.

“The Government’s plans must include a rocket boost in funding for children’s mental health, to expand services and eliminate postcode lottery.”