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Training for mental health leaders in schools, a key part of the government’s plan to improve children’s wellbeing, was halted in January 2020 and delayed further as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it has emerged.
The revelation came during a parliamentary health and social care committee meeting, at which the NHS England director of mental health was forced to deny that they had run out of beds for children and young people needing urgent support owing to a Covid-related surge in demand.
Claire Murdoch said there was “huge demand”, with the number of eating disorder referrals doubling last year, which meant some children were waiting for a bed or receiving support at home or in paediatric wards.
During the meeting, chaired by the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Emma Thomas, the chief executive of Young Minds, also revealed that training of mental health leads in schools had not yet started, adding that the tender was already on hold when the pandemic began.
Murdoch was asked why training had stopped in January if the plan, according to the government’s green paper in 2017, was to get a quarter of leads into schools by 2023.
Murdoch said: “As you know, there are three components to the introduction of those mental health support teams … It is true to say the senior teacher lead is something the Department for Education is leading on and [it is] their responsibility to deliver that.”
“I know there was a hiatus with that last year in the wake of Covid and it is really best to ask them,” she said.
The DfE has been approached for comment.
Hunt said Murdoch should write to the committee with a response as to what had happened when she spoke to them about it. He pushed as to why the training was stopped in January before the pandemic. “From your point of view in the NHS, is that still is an important part of the plan?” he asked.
Murdoch said: “Its a really important part of the plan … We want the mental health support teams to be bedded into schools that are also running whole school approach to emotional wellbeing … those senior educational leads are a pivotal part of the model.”
The newly appointed children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, raised concerns about the slow pace of progress, saying that children’s mental health services needed to be “rocket-boosted” in order to meet the 2028 target for all children to receive the support they need.
The meeting discussed the growing concern around children’s mental health and how services that were already having problems before the pandemic had struggled to cope with huge rises in demand last year.
A senior clinician told Health Service Journal on Tuesday that there was “no capacity anywhere” to deal with an unprecedented surge in admissions of children with mental health problems.
When presented with this story, Murdoch said they had children and adolescent inpatient beds last week and could provide numbers to the committee to prove it.
“However, we are experiencing huge demand on inpatient services and know a number of children and young people waiting for a bed,” she said.
“I also know that they are receiving intensive support at home or in paediatric wards but at the moment we are sure they are safe and well cared for,” she added.
Murdoch said there had been a doubling of eating disorder referrals in the last 12 months, and added: “There is something about the pandemic … that has led to a big increase. So a lot of our investment plans and focus is on making sure we do have the adequate treatment in place.”
It was, she said, an area they were “concerned about and focused on and giving high priority to. No one anticipated a doubling of referrals in 12 months.”
She added: “The system is working very hard to look after these children and young people.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Training for mental health leads in English schools ‘not yet started’ | Mental health