Mental health support in schools and colleges and faster access to NHS care

In 2017, the Government published its Green Paper for Transforming children and young people’s mental health, which detailed proposals for expanding access to mental health care for children and young people, building on the national NHS transformation programme which is already underway.

The proposals were focused on providing additional support through schools and colleges and reducing waiting times for treatment. Following a 13-week public consultation, during which the Government received more than 2,700 responses, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education published its Response to the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Green Paper Consultation.

These core commitments are delivered through a joint and collaborative programme led by the Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Education and NHS England and NHS Improvement, with support from Health Education England and Public Health England.

Supported by these partners, NHS England and NHS Improvement is leading the delivery of two of the programme’s main commitments:

  • Establishing Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) in education settings, jointly delivered with the Department for Education. As part of the MHST workforce structure, new roles called Educational Mental Health Practitioners have been created and are being trained in evidence-based interventions. The teams will act as a link with local children and young people’s mental health (CYPMH) services and be supervised by NHS staff;
  • CYPMH Waiting time pilots. Pilot sites have been selected to trial the feasibility, sustainability, resource implications and impact of significantly reduced waits for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services, building on the expansion of NHS services already underway.

The programme’s other commitments include the training of Senior Mental Health Leads in schools and colleges, which is being led by the Department for Education, and the national rollout of the Link Programme.

In March 2021, the government announced £79 million to boost mental health support for children and young people in England. The new funding was part of the £500 million already announced for mental health support during the 2020 Spending Review. Over the course of  2021/22, it will be used to expand the support available to children and young people, including increasing the number of MHSTs in schools and colleges and improving access and reducing waiting times for community mental health support.

Mental Health Support Teams

MHSTs have three core functions:

  • to deliver evidence-based interventions for mild-to-moderate mental health issues;
  • support the senior mental health lead (where established) in each school or college to introduce or develop their whole school or college approach and;
  • give timely advise to school and college staff, and liaise with external specialist service to help children and young people to get the right support and stay in education.

In 2018/19, the first wave of MHSTs were commissioned – 58 ‘Trailblazer’ teams – followed by a further 125 MHSTs in 2019/20. These 183 teams are now operational and working hard with schools and colleges. The MHSTs are designed to provide a tailored offer of direct interventions to individuals and groups of children and young people and additional whole school and college support. More teams are on the way; 104 teams were commissioned in 2020/21, with a further 112 to commence training during 21/22. This means that 399 MHSTs will be up and running, covering 3,000 schools in England and offering support to almost three million pupils, by 2023.

Early evaluation of the Trailblazer programme can be found on the University of Birmingham’s website.

NHS England and NHS Improvement regional teams are leading local areas through the further rollout of MHSTs. This includes the recent development of multi-year plans for MHST site selection (incorporating 2021/22 to 2023/24).  Taking a multi-year approach improves strategic planning abilities for both regions and MHSTs. This multi-year approach is underpinned by the principles of achieving equitable MHST coverage across England and focusing on placing MHSTs where there are higher levels of need, inequality and disadvantage.

MHSTs will contribute to the NHS Long Term Plan’s ambition that at least an additional 345,000 children and young people aged 0-25 will be able to access NHS-funded mental health services.

Region ICS

Number of MHSTs, by year

2018/19

Trailblazer

2019/20

Wave 1 and 2

2020/21

Wave 3 and 4

2021/22

Wave 5 and 6

Total (region)
North East and Yorkshire North East and North Cumbria 7 6 4 4 61
Humber, Coast and Vale 0 4 3 4
South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw 4 2 3 2
West Yorkshire and Harrogate 2 6 4 6
North West Cheshire and Merseyside 3 8 8 5 50
Lancashire and South Cumbria 0 4 6 6
Greater Manchester 2 2 2 4
East of England Hertfordshire and West Essex 2 2 2 3 44
Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes 0 3 1 3
Mid and South Essex 0 3 3 2
Suffolk and North East Essex 0 3 3 2
Norfolk and Waveney 0 2 2 2
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 0 2 2 2
Midlands Nottingham and Nottinghamshire 2 3 2 1 62
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent 4 2 1 1
Coventry and Warwickshire 2 2 0 2
The Black Country 0 4 2 3
Derbyshire 0 4 2 0
Lincolnshire 0 2 2 0
Birmingham and Solihull 0 2 0 2
Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin 0 2 0 1
Herefordshire and Worcestershire 0 0 4 0
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland 0 0 3 2
Northamptonshire 0 0 2 3
London North East London 2 2 6 5 76
North Central London 4 8 1 1
North West London 4 5 5 3
South West London 3 7 3 3
South East London 2 4 4 4
South East Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West 6 3 0 3 58
Frimley Health 0 1 3 3
Surrey Heartlands 0 0 2 2
Sussex 0 6 0 3
Hampshire and Isle of Wight 0 6 5 3
Kent and Medway 2 2 4 4
South West Gloucestershire 4 0 0 2 48
Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire 3 3 2 2
Devon 0 3 1 3
Cornwall and Isles of Scilly 0 2 2 2
Somerset 0 2 2 2
Dorset 0 3 0 4
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire 0 0 3 3
Totals 58 125 104 112 399