New trailblazers launched to improve children’s mental health

The government has announced 25 trailblazer sites to launch new mental health services for children and young people. Credit: Ian West/PA Images

Achieving parity of access to treatments for mental health patients compared with that for people with physical conditions will be the work of a generation, the Health Secretary has warned.

Matt Hancock said he understood the urgent need to make improvements but stressed that achieving equality of access between mental and physical health patients will take a “generation”.

The minister was speaking at the launch of 25 new trailblazer regions which will introduce new mental health services to a population of nearly 500,000 children and young people.

He told the Press Association that the last few years have seen “radical improvements” to mental health services and a reduction in the stigma surrounding mental illness.

He added: “Bringing parity of access between mental and physical health services is the work of a generation.

“The balance is making sure that the extra money that’s coming is spent effectively, gets to the right places and helps people on the ground.

“I feel the urgency of need as deeply as anyone and I want to make sure that we get this right.”

One in eight children and young people aged between five and 19 had a mental disorder in England in 2017 according to NHS Digital.

The new pilot areas will see schools and the NHS working together to pilot proposals from the Government’s children and young people’s mental health green paper.

The plans are a joint project between the Departments of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Department for Education and include each school having a designated mental health lead, training new mental health support teams and trialling a new four-hour waiting time target.

The DHSC has selected seven institutions to train up to 8,000 new mental health practitioners beginning in January.

Each of the 59 mental health support teams will support about 8,000 young people across a cluster of 20 schools and colleges.

Mr Hancock said: “Children and young people with mental illness should receive the same level of support as those with physical illness.

“Made possible by the extra £20.5 billion we are investing in the NHS, today’s announcement will see the health and education systems come together so our children can access the help they need at school and takes us a step closer to achieving our goal of parity between mental and physical health.”

The Government’s impact assessment estimates the schemes will cost about £110 million up to 2020-21, rising to £1.59 billion by 2027-28 to roll it out across the country.

The new services are expected to be rolled out to between a third and a fifth of the country by 2023-24, with further improvements for children and young people’s services promised in the NHS long-term plan.

Mr Hancock said: “This is not a pilot that has an end date, this is a first wave with a clear commitment to roll out nationally as we learn the lessons.”

The long-term plan, expected in the new year, will set out how the NHS will invest the £20.5 billion extra a year by 2023-24 which was promised in the budget.

Mr Hancock told PA he was determined to see long-term investment in improving children and young people’s mental health services beyond the five years of the plan.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “Children today experience pressures that we as adults often find hard to appreciate, or possibly even understand.

“We are much more aware of mental health in the education sector now than in decades gone by and rightly so, and teachers are often able to recognise the early warning signs of changes in their pupils’ behaviour or mood, but they are not mental health professionals.

“That’s why through these new support teams working with schools, we will speed up access to specialist services and make expert advice available to those who need it the most.”