NHS taskforce to drive improvements in young people’s hospital mental health, learning disability and autism care

NHS chief Simon Stevens has today (Thursday October 10th) announced that a new taskforce will be set up to improve current specialist children and young people’s inpatient mental health, autism and learning disability services in England.

The NHS Long Term Plan sets out an ambitious programme to transform mental health services, autism and learning disability; with a particular focus on boosting community services and reducing the over reliance on inpatient care, with these more intensive services significantly improved and more effectively joined up with schools and councils.

The NHS chief also announced that Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, will chair an independent oversight board to scrutinise and support the work of the taskforce.

The Children’s Commissioner and her board will be given wide-ranging scope to track progress and propose rapid improvements in existing services, examine the best approach to complex issues such as inappropriate care, out of area placements, length of stays and oversee the development of genuine alternatives to care, closer to home.

The establishment of the inpatient taskforce and independent oversight board, comes as part of a package of measures in the NHS Long Term Plan to ensure that all NHS services operate at safe and effective levels, as well as immediately injecting a boost in care quality.

Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive said: “This taskforce will place a spotlight on services and care for some of the most vulnerable young people in our society, bringing together families, leading clinicians, charities, and other public bodies to help make these services as effective, safe and supportive as possible for thousands of families.

“The NHS Long Term Plan lays out a package of measures which will mean more than two million extra children and adults get the mental health care they need and while early intervention to stop ill health escalating is a priority, we are also determined to provide the strongest possible safety net for families living with the most acute conditions.”

Claire Murdoch, NHS mental health and learning disabilities director, said: “Children and their families living with autism, a learning disability or mental ill health know the daily challenges for mind and body and are entitled to expect the absolute highest quality care and safety, which our taskforce will help to deliver.

“I’m pleased that the new oversight board, led by the Children’s Commissioner, will bring to bear important expert scrutiny and pressure on the NHS, councils, the education system and others, to make sure young people, their carers and relatives get the right care at the moments they need it most.”

Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner, said: “Research published by my office earlier this year found that far too many children are stuck in hospital for months or even years when they do not need to be there. I am pleased that this taskforce has been announced to change this unacceptable situation, and I am delighted to Chair this Independent Oversight Group to amplify the voice of these children and their families, scrutinise progress and hold the system to account.”

The taskforce will seek to: 

  • make a rapid set of improvements in care – over 18 months – but starting immediately
  • agree a set of recommendations for next steps.

Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “We welcome NHS England’s new taskforce to improve inpatient care for children and young people with mental illness, autism and learning disabilities. We hope this will help deliver the positive vision set out in the NHS Long Term Plan for children’s mental health services.”

Oonagh Smyth, executive director of strategy and influence at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “We warmly welcome NHS England’s announcement that it will introduce a new independent taskforce to improve specialist children and young people’s inpatient services in England. Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, is a strong champion for the rights of children with a learning disability and/or autism and we welcome her appointment as chair. We look forward to continuing to work with her to ensure that children and young people can get the support they need in their community to stop them from reaching crisis point.”

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “Our members will welcome this new taskforce’s focus on improving services for some of the most vulnerable children and young people, particularly those with learning disabilities and autism.The Children’s Commissioner is a passionate advocate for children, who will work tirelessly to deliver positive change to those most in need.”

Specialist taskforce delivery teams will be made up of doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical professionals.

The group will be asked to consider the best way to deliver compassionate care for acute need – including reviewing independent sector and NHS provision – including giving nurses and other staff the right clinical expertise and managing issues like seclusion and segregation in inpatient settings.

There are already examples of good practice and the NHS expects the taskforce to drive up standards and replicate the success of hospitals like Ferndene in Northumberland. It is one of the psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) in the country with an outstanding rating from the regulator the Care and Quality Commission.

Young people arrive at the hospital in a crisis and staff immediately focus on equipping them with the skills they need to manage elsewhere and hold a daily meeting with everyone involved in a child’s care to ensure no one stays longer than they need to.

As soon as they start to see progress, clinicians support them to quickly build resilience so that they can manage in community services.

The NHS Long Term Plan is already committed to expanding access to ‘CYPMHs’, creating more crisis alternatives, developing new models of care for young adults and ending the so-called ‘cliff edge’ that can exist when 18 year olds transition to adult mental services.

Alongside treating acute conditions, the Plan commits to delivering a £2.3 billion funding injection for community mental health services, as well as record-high investment in children’s care, to provide care for 345,000 extra young people and more than 370,000 adults with severe mental illness.