UK Government’s Proposed Mental Health Plans Could “Fail a Generation” of Children, Warn MPs

Wednesday 9th May 2018

MPs have warned that the flagship proposals set out by the Government’s green paper in December to improve mental health services and tackle a crisis among young people could lead to thousands of young people and children lacking the support they urgently need.

These thoughts were expressed in a damning report by both the Health and Social Care, and Education select committees, which criticised the lack of ambition with the strategy, the failure to factor into their proposals the needs of particularly vulnerable groups, as well as the slow rollout of the plans.

The plans are to be rolled out over a long period of time, and is estimated to only have a reach of between 20% and 25% over five years. The plans also prioritise what the government define as “trailblazer areas”, which have the potential of causing a further lack of mental health provisions in deprived services, as mental health staff move to areas with better funding.

The plans, estimated to cost £300 million, include a number of proposals, including the requirement that all schools and colleges hire and train a “mental health lead” who have the duty to make sure pupils have access to support services as they need them. The government’s plans also include the creation of mental health support teams who bridge the gap between the NHS and schools, in order to help early intervention of mental health conditions.

MPs who were part of the cross-party report argued that the plans do not sufficiently explore how children’s mental health issues can be prevented, and also reported disappointment that there no substantial plans for young people who are being transferred into adult mental health services, leading to the risk that they will fall through the gaps in provision and not receive services they desperately need once they hit the age where children’s mental health services no longer apply.

There were also warnings that the plans do not address the needs of children excluded from school, who are more likely than those in school to have mental health needs, nor the needs of children in care, alternative provision or young people who were not in employment, education or training.

Certain risk factors were also not taken into account, MPs have warned, and called for an independent study on the impact of major high stakes exams (SATs, GCSEs and A Levels) on the wellbeing and mental health of children, amid reports than young people considered it a major source of pressure. The contrast between these concerns and the dismissive nature of comments by Nick Gibb, the schools minister.

Further warnings were placed on if the proposals were going to add more strain to a strained teaching workforce with resources and funding not guaranteed for the plans. The fear expressed by MPs is that the effect of the proposals could unintentionally cause a reduction in the current provision of mental health support, increasing reliance on the mental health support teams.

Both the Children’s Commissioner and children’s charities such as Barnardo’s agree that there is a risk that these proposals will not reduce the problem of support, although the government disagrees that their plans lack ambition.