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Greater insight into the experiences and challenges affecting the mental health of young people

In May, I was delighted to meet more than 120 young people to hear their priorities for the future of mental health care.

It was a remarkable event organised by NHS England and Young Minds. The young participants told us what mattered to them, their friends and families, and what they needed to have more control over their care and their futures. And I can assure you we listened – their views, along with those of many others, have helped shape the priorities for children and young people’s mental health in the NHS Long Term Plan.

What is remarkable to me today is that some of those young people hadn’t been born when the last survey of children and young people’s mental health was published in 2004. Last week a new survey was launched which gives us greater insight into the experiences and challenges affecting the mental health of this new generation of young people.

The survey also makes clear how much more work there is still to do, not just across the NHS but also within our communities so we can help our young people meet 21st century challenges, many of which we couldn’t have imagined in 2004.

The prevalence study was more than a decade out of date when our current mental health programme – based on the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health – was launched in 2016. Stakeholders had highlighted this gap in what was understood about young people’s mental health care. Our response, the NHS implementation plan, was clear too that how we frame our national ambition for increasing access to children and young people’s services would need to be revised once we had new prevalence data. This week, we will start that process.

Of course, it would have been easier to wait for that missing piece of knowledge before embarking on our programme. But in my view, it would also have been unforgiveable to wait. We needed to start transforming mental health care for children and young people as early as possible. In 2016, with clear priorities and an unprecedented national mandate we, and our partners and stakeholders rolled up our sleeves and set to work.

We are now halfway through our £1.4bn programme and have made steady but significant progress. Together we’ve developed 70 community eating disorder services, through £30m a year in new investment. We are tracking progress with data that shows many more young people are getting the expert help they need, much earlier.

More money, £5m last year, has gone into the development of crisis care for children and young people, and there has been training and recruitment to improve the skills and understanding of A&E and hospital staff providing crisis care for all ages.

There are new beds for young people who need inpatient mental health care, focused on areas of the country where there weren’t enough. Through this, more young people are getting the specialist care they need without having to travel long distances from friends and family.

Local commissioners and partners, including young people, have developed community partnerships focused on providing early intervention, and stigma-free support, like The Hive in Camden which gives free advice and support for young people up to the age of 24, not just on their health and wellbeing but also jobs, training, education as well as housing.

An additional 150 newly recruited staff qualified as therapists in 2017. This year, a further 400 are in training, on top of additional development for existing staff and a national programme to expand the mental health workforce.

Schools and services have explored how to improve local links and partnerships. Starting this week, the Government’s programme for mental health in schools will take this further, providing skilled support in schools around the country, and quicker access to care for young people who need it though the testing of a four-week waiting time.

And, nationally, we are building better, clearer data, and listening to the experiences of young people, to develop evidence-based standards so no matter where someone lives, they can access the care they need.

I firmly believe much of this progress is down to the passion and determination of the mental health community, in all its vast diversity, with extraordinary young people, like those who joined us in May, at its heart. As the NHS prepares to unveil the priorities for children and young people’s mental health care for the next ten years, I know we can count on our wonderful mental health community to help us fulfil the trust young people have placed in us to deliver world-class mental health care.

Claire Murdoch

Claire Murdoch is NHS England’s National Mental Health Director.

She has been a registered mental health nurse for 34 years, and joined NHS England in April 2016.

She is also Chief Executive of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. With a wealth of clinical and leadership experience she is leading delivery of the national mental health programme.

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