Child mental health and community care to be addressed in coming year, says Stevens

Community care and the “mass of unmet need” of children’s mental health services will be amongst the key areas of focus for NHS England in the next year, its chief executive has said.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation convention in Manchester yesterday, Simon Stevens said there is “a huge productivity opportunity” for community services to relieve pressure from frontline and acute care in Britain’s hospitals, particularly with growing demand through the winter months.

Stevens referred to a recent study reported on by NHE last week that claimed hospitals had to endure 1.5m million ‘avoidable’ emergency admissions in the last year alone. “We know that when people get to hospital, we still have problems with the way which patients are able to be discharged,” Stevens said. “The fact that a fifth of our hospital beds are occupied by people who have been there for over three weeks is an affront to patient dignity.”

Stevens called on community and voluntary services to cut down the country’s ‘bed-blocking’ epidemic that was caused by elderly patients having to be admitted, and stay admitted, to hospitals— despite being fit enough to be discharged— that was having a negative impact on the country’s emergency services and operation rates.

“It is time for a change of gear,” Stevens said. “We know there are great funding pressures in community healthcare services. But the principal focus of the NHS over the year ahead is building progress already made with local councils on delayed transfers of care over the course of the last year. The top operational objective for us is unblocking blocked beds.”

Stevens commended the work of community and mental health services that responded to recent tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire and the Manchester Arena bomb attack last year. He said: “After the fire, community volunteers were ferrying people around in an effort to find bed & breakfasts that people could be accommodated in. It was our NHS staff who looked after the 900 people who needed treatment as a result of that tragedy who needed help for their mental health.

“Our staff live in their community. It is a neighbourhood health service. Many of the conversations we have also need to take account of the future of communities, not just the disposition of community services for them.

“The fact that NHS staff had been to thousands of community meetings and were a trusted part of our community is the essence of what the NHS is,” he added. “GP services, community services, and home-care services amongst many other ‘out of hospital’ sectors actually are the principal experience of the support network that most people have under their circumstances.”

Still a mass of unmet need

The NHS England boss emphasised the need for greater focus on children’s mental health funding. NHS England will aim for a third of young people to receive the support they need for mental issues by 2020, but said there is still a “mass” of unmet demand.

Stevens said it was “obvious” there were high levels of young people needing mental help from the NHS, more than any other part of the health service. He called upon social media companies, who have a major influence on the minds of adolescent people, to step up and deal with the ongoing crisis.

“You can’t just leave the NHS to deal with this issue. We’re going to have to think very carefully about what the priorities are, what the phasing of improvement looks like, and we want to do that by an open and inclusive process to develop a long-term plan for the next five to ten years,” he added.

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