A shortage of specialist staff could hinder further improvements for children and young people in Northumberland accessing mental-health services.
As reported at Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing board last month, action has been taken to ensure that waiting times for mental-health treatment for young people have dropped significantly.
A plan was drawn up following a rise late last year and it has seen an improvement in overall performance, with the longest wait for treatment reducing from more than 30 weeks to 12 weeks.
The specialist children and young people’s mental-health community service (CYPS) in the county is provided by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW).
Presenting a more detailed update to the board last Thursday, Suzanne Barton, of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “NTW has implemented a number of changes since the end of last year and I have to say that is really starting to bear some fruit.
“The service has also looked quite hard at its front door and how to make services more accessible.”
Those in crisis continue to be seen within 72 hours, although most are seen the same day, and efforts are being made to bring that down to within a couple of hours. Ms Barton added: “The service is a bit ahead of the game with that as there are going to be national mandates coming in.”
Meanwhile, there are already national targets for those with an eating disorder – being in treatment within a week for urgent cases or within four weeks for more routine cases – and these are being met by CYPS.
But Ms Barton said: “There are still some challenges – 12 weeks is great compared to 30 weeks, but it’s not where we want to be. The service is still seeing a rise in demand and the referral rates are increasing.”
The report to the board added: ‘There remain particular issues concerning the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce in both the early intervention and speciality services.
‘This is felt in all NHS and local-authority services and, as a result, there have been gaps in psychiatry, primary-care workers, social workers and CYPS.
‘While all services have dynamic recruitment policies and processes, this issue is not easily resolved and has national recognition as a risk to the delivery of psychological-based strategies.’
David Thompson, chairman of Healthwatch Northumberland, welcomed the ‘quite significant’ improvement in waiting times, but asked how sustainable it would be to maintain progress in light of these workforce issues.
Russell Patton, from NTW, said: “Workforce issues need to be front and centre for boards like this. We are really struggling in recruiting for those specialist roles. It’s a risk for the system as a whole.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service