Mental health

MPs want mental health support teams extended to all schools in six years

Committee calls for 'urgent action' to prevent services slipping backwards

Committee calls for 'urgent action' to prevent services slipping backwards

mental health

New support teams set up to link up education and mental health services should be rolled out to all schools in six years, MPs have said, after finding the ambition for the new units was “too low”.

The government should also ensure that mental health support teams, unveiled four years ago by prime minister Theresa May, are trained to deal with eating disorders, suicide prevention and self-harm.

In a report published today, the Parliamentary health and social care committee called for “urgent action” to prevent progress on mental health slipping backwards as a result of the pandemic and unmet need.

Mental health support teams, run by the NHS, were a key strand of the government’s 2017 green paper, with an aim of reaching at least a fifth to a quarter of the country by the end of 2022-23.

The teams work between schools and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to provide early intervention on mental wellbeing and emotional wellbeing issues.

After a funding boost this year, they are now expected to reach 35 per cent of the country by 2023.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s mental health director, told MPs in June they expected to see 47 per cent coverage by 2023-24, but no further funding has been announced beyond that.

Today’s report said that while the acceleration was a “welcome improvement” on the green paper aims, the fact only half of pupils will be able to access the new teams by the end of this Parliament “also demonstrated why the original ambition was too low”.

Committee chair Jeremy Hunt

The committee recommended that the Department of Health and Social Care “fully fund and scale up” the roll out to cover two thirds of schools in England by 2024-25 and 100 per cent by 2027-28.

The inquiry also found that while education mental health practitioners, a new role set up to staff the support teams MHSTs, were trained in identifying eating disorders, they were “not intended to provide clinical interventions” over these “complex issues”.

MPs recommend their training be “reviewed” to integrate their skills into a “new psychological professions structure”.

“This must include training experienced practitioners in more sophisticated psychological therapy so that they can work with more complex cases such as eating disorders and self-harm,” the report said.

These practitioners must be trained in “self-harm and suicide prevention specifically”.

But Nadine Dorries, then mental health minister, told the committee in June that the “fundamental issue” with rolling out support teams nationwide was to do with training enough staff.

MPs also urged the Department for Education to “urgently” roll out designated senior mental health lead training with a commitment “to completing the roll out before the end of the current parliament” in 2024.

DfE currently aims to hit that target by 2025. Training only began this year.

Committee chair, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, said: “Partly because of the pandemic, we are seeing demand for mental health treatment pushing NHS services to breaking point.

“Whilst we recognise that capacity to provide such services is increasing, we are not convinced it is happening at a fast enough rate.”

The Department for Health and Social Care, DfE and NHS England were approached for comment.

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