A government scheme to improve access to mental health services for pupils may not reach all schools for a decade, it has been admitted.
Campaigners and MPs had already expressed concerns about an initial target to reach just one in four areas by 2023, but now it seems the full roll-out could take up to 10 years.
In its NHS Long Term Plan, published today, the government said that by 2023-24, an extra 345,000 children will be able to access mental health support via local health services and new school-based mental health support teams.
But a goal of ensuring all children get access to the specialist care they need will only be achieved “over the coming decade”, the document states.
In December 2017, the government published a green paper on children and young people’s mental health, allocating £300 million in funding for mental health staff to work in and with schools.
This included £95 million for schools to appoint and train designated senior leads for mental health from this year, and another £215 million is promised for new mental health support teams, which will work with the NHS to offer support and treatments in schools, including cognitive behaviour therapy.
But a damning report by the parliamentary education and health committees last year criticised the government’s plans, warning they “lack any ambition” and will put additional pressure on teachers without providing schools with extra resources.
The committees also warned that the timetable for implementation – which will see proposals rolled out to just 20 to 25 per cent of areas during a “trailblazer phase” over five years – ignores the needs hundreds of thousands of children who will go without the support while it is rolled out.
At the time, the government defended its plans, claiming the 20 to 25 per cent target would already be a “significant achievement”. Officials subsequently confirmed last October that ministers wanted to see the mental health support teams rolled out to all schools.
The long-term plan released today states: “By 2023/24, at least an additional 345,000 children and young people aged 0-25 will be able to access support via NHS funded mental health services and school or college-based Mental Health Support Teams.
“Over the coming decade the goal is to ensure that 100 per cent of children and young people who need specialist care can access it.”
A ‘stronger role’ for the NHS in schools?
The long-term plan also reveals that government is considering whether there is a “stronger role” for the NHS in commissioning school nurses, health visitors and other community health services.
These public health services are currently funded and commissioned by local councils, but this may come under review.
“As many of these services are closely linked to NHS care, and in many case provided by NHS trusts, the government and the NHS will consider whether there is a stronger role for the NHS in commissioning sexual health services, health visitors, and school nurses, and what best future
commissioning arrangements might therefore be,” the document states.