Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:52 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich 2:52 pm, 4th December 2018

I completely agree, but it is also about breaking down the silos on the ground. It is all very well Government Departments coming together to work together and the silos being broken down—that did help between the Department of Health and the Department for Education on special educational needs under the coalition Government, but in reality the levers or mechanisms do not exist on the ground to deliver meaningful change for young people in the timely manner that was envisaged by the legislation passed in this House. We must make sure that whatever legislation is passed and whatever co-operation there is at Whitehall level translates into the right levers on the ground to deliver the co-ordinated and joined-up approach to more integrated care that young people need, across health, education, social services and other statutory services as may be required.

On the broader issue of child and adolescent mental health, a key challenge is the lack of workforce to deliver the care needed for young people. We know that the number of full-time mental health nurses has fallen by more than 6,000 between 2010 and March 2018, with a reduction of 1,832 learning disability nurses alone during that period. The number of CAMHS and learning disability consultant psychiatrists has slightly declined over the past decade. Many parts of the country, particularly outside London, are struggling to fill higher registrar training posts in CAMHS and learning disability psychiatry. That is a real problem, because without the workforce to deliver care we will not have the bodies on the ground to make a difference for young people.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that the recent rhetoric on child and adolescent mental health still bears little resemblance to the reality facing many children and their families. Given the shrinking CAMHS and learning disability workforce, it is difficult to see how current levels of care can be maintained, let alone how the step change in mental healthcare provision for young people, which the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and I—and everybody taking part in this debate—would like to see, can take place.

The focus on healthcare apps and the talk of fines for social media companies are no substitute for having enough trained professionals on the ground to deliver frontline care to young people and their families. The NHS is far too often viewed through the prism of A&E. As a result, acute hospitals often receive a disproportionate level of funding compared with primary care and community services. In child and adolescent mental health services, as in other parts of the NHS, community services are often understaffed and poorly resourced. In fact, we are hearing about reductions in staff levels and not about the increase that the Government talk about as being desirable. My message to the Minister today is that we need more staff in child and adolescent mental health services, whether they are working in schools or in the community. Without those staff, all the media announcements and well-wishing announcements to improve in this area will come largely to nothing, and young people will still be struggling.

On the issue of fragmented commissioning, which the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon raised, we see silos not just in Whitehall but on the ground. CAMHS, social services and education providers do not always work in a joined-up way. Although there can be some good initiatives at local level, and there are examples of good, co-operative working, there is nothing to compel the providers of different services to work in a joined-up way for the benefit of young people. Unless we get the commissioning of services right in providing better mental healthcare for young people, and actually compel joint working rather than just encourage it, we will not make a meaningful difference.

I know that the Minister will want to pick up some of these issues with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care. Unless we have a joined-up approach that we can compel at local level, all the announcements on improvements in tackling young people’s mental health will come to very little. We will still be having these debates in this place in 10 years’ time—those young people will have lost 10 years of their life and will still be struggling.

I know that the Minister has a great commitment to all he has done on schools and in education. He has been a very good Minister, and I hope that he will redouble his efforts to get joined-up working and collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care in addressing some of these problems.