Mental health support teams have now been launched in schools in two Northumberland towns as part of a nationally-funded pilot scheme.
By December next year, all of the county’s mental health services will see children and young people within four weeks of referral.
These have both come about after the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which plans and buys healthcare in the county, was successful in being awarded government funding for two elements of the trailblazers wave one pilot.
Northumberland was one of only 12 CCGs nationally to be awarded funding for the mental health support teams (MHSTs) in schools pilot and the waiting time pilot.
Kate O’Brien, the CCG’s senior head of commissioning for child health, mental health and learning disabilities, said this success was due to Northumberland’s well-established collaborative approach, which meant that the partnership bid submitted ‘showed a sound basis for delivery of the principles of the pilot’.
She explained that the MHSTs, which are being piloted in Blyth and Hexham, aim to support children with ‘lower-level mental health concerns’.
“So children will be able to access help earlier before problems and concerns develop to that higher level, which would require an intervention from a secondary care mental health service,” she said.
Kate added that the four-week waiting time target is significant, because historically there have been long waits in Northumberland and all of the providers have worked ‘relentlessly’ over the last 18 months to bring those down.
“To get this opportunity to pump prime, with quite a significant amount of money, for a targeted approach to getting children seen quicker was very welcome and we have already seen a significant reduction in wait times for children to access services across Northumberland,” she said.
The average waiting time now is around 6.8 weeks, while at times before, some children did wait up to 30 weeks, although most were seen within 18 weeks.
The other area being targeted is reducing the number of people that children come into contact with before they are put on the right pathway for treatment and support; discussions are also ongoing about a single point of access.
The focus on children and young people through these and other projects is important for a number of reasons, Kate explained.
“Northumberland, as a system, is absolutely committed to making sure children have the best start of life, it’s one of the strategies that we have signed up to and are determined to deliver over the next five years,” she said.
“The evidence is that one in four people have a mental health problem and a lot of these problems have their origins in childhood, so by understanding adverse experiences in childhood and the trauma that can cause, by making sure children are supported to be as resilient as possible, we can head off some of the problems that can continue into adulthood and become more acute and chronic.
“We reflect the national picture in that we are seeing increasing numbers of children self-reporting and being referred to mental health services.
“We know that for a variety of reasons, there are more pressures on children nowadays that can result in mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, low mood, sleeplessness and failure to achieve key life goals, like passing exams.
“We have increasing numbers of children accessing our services, but we are also aware that there are children who don’t access mental health services, who are being supported by their schools and their parents or carers, who would benefit from some early targeted advice.”
However, the flip side of the increasing numbers is that this suggests that young people are more willing to admit they have an issue and seek help than perhaps was the case in the past.
“All of the campaigns around raising the awareness of mental health concerns, particularly in younger people, have helped to de-stigmatise mental health and encouraged children and young people to come forward and talk about things that concern them,” Kate said.
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