Children with mental ill health treated poorly, ex-MP claims

Norman Lamb speaks at the Viscount Nelson Education Network (VNET) education conference at The Space

Norman Lamb speaks at the Viscount Nelson Education Network (VNET) education conference at The Space in Norwich. Picture: Bethany Whymark - Credit: Archant

Children with mental health problems are being treated 'disgracefully' by health services, Norman Lamb has claimed.

The former North Norfolk MP said significant change was needed to speed up treatment and referrals of young people experiencing mental ill health in Norfolk.

He was speaking at the Viscount Nelson Education Network (VNET) education conference, which included a number of talks on supporting pupils' emotional and mental health.

At the event at The Space in Norwich on Friday, Mr Lamb said he heard "horror story after horror story of children let down by a dysfunctional system" while serving as a health minister in the coalition government.

"Children who suffer neglect, experience domestic violence, have a broken family or a parent in prison, all of these things amount to significant trauma but too often there is very little evidence-based support to meet that need," he said.

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"We can continue to neglect children and young people with mental health needs and mental distress, but the lifelong cost to society of that neglect is huge. It is not only morally wrong, it is stupid and the time for government to take this seriously is now."

Mr Lamb acknowledged measures taken by Norfolk County Council to improve local services, but said that the situation remained "wholly unacceptable".

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He believes introducing a digital mental health service for young people in Norfolk - which has already been done in many other parts of the country - would be crucial going forward.

"To have immediate access to support rather than being put on a waiting list for a long period of time seems to be a very attractive part of the solution," he said.

With mental health services stretched, many schools are taking matters into their own hands.

Nick O'Brien, mental health lead at Dereham Neatherd High School, spoke at the conference about the school's work to support the mental health needs of pupils and staff.

He said: "It is a scandal that young people are waiting up to three years in some cases for a service, because they only have so many years in education and they only get one shot at it."

Debbie Whiting, headteacher at North Denes Primary School in Great Yarmouth, has worked to set up a wellbeing team with trained professionals over the past four years.

Despite a tough financial climate she is determined to keep the team - which has had a noticeable effect on pupils' health and academic achievement.

She said: "We didn't want children to wait [for help] until the point where there is a crisis. We have not got the money to provide everything we want to provide but I am determined to protect that service."

Bohdan Solomka, medical director at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NFST), said: "We acknowledge that mental health services for young people need to improve. Mental health is a system-wide issue and NSFT is working closely with our partner organisations, including commissioners, county councils, GPs, schools, charities and other voluntary organisations to improve the quality of care we all deliver to children and young people.

"As has been seen in other NHS trusts nationally, demand for mental health services has steadily increased from people who are increasingly more unwell than before and we are seeing more and more people in crisis. This, in turn, puts more pressure on all of our services.

"We are working in partnership with our commissioners to collectively manage these issues and to ensure that children receive an assessment of their mental health needs as soon as possible and are directed to appropriate services at the earliest opportunity."

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