Young people suffer as mental health referral targets missed

Girl at window

A campaign has been launching urging long-term for an expanded network of mental health hubs for young people. - Credit: Getty Images

Less than a fifth of young people needing an urgent mental health referral in parts of Norfolk are getting the support they need in time.

A report to the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) board set out its current performance for people accessing mental health support across the two counties, with young people among the hardest hit.

In Norfolk and Waveney, just 40pc of under 19s needing urgent treatment for an eating disorder were seen within a week. The target is 95pc. 

The number of non-urgent cases seen within four weeks was 37.93pc. 

Under 18s needing urgent mental health referrals assessed within Central and West CCG's five-day target was 19.51pc - the target is 95pc. 

Urgent referrals assessed within Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG's 72 hours target was 57.14pc - its target is 80pc.

The numbers in Suffolk were even worse, with the trust failing to get any under 19's with eating disorder's urgent treatment within a week. They only managed to get 30pc of non-urgent cases treatment in four weeks.

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: Bill Smith

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

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“We are seeing increased demand for mental health support, including our eating disorder services, and our staff working hard to meet the demand," said Amy Eagle, interim chief operating officer at NSFT. 

"We are working with our partners in the NHS and in community organisations to ensure children and young people receive the care they need."

The report to NSFT board members said there had been 112 emergency mental health referrals for under 18s in May, 121 in June and 125 in July.

Norfolk and Waveney have seen a reduction in under 18 referrals being treated within its targets.

It said this was down to covid restrictions impacting young people's mental health and on service delivery, resulting in longer waiting lists.

The report said they are looking to deliver distanced therapies to work with those who have waited longest and who are more at risk of clinical harm.

Emma Corlett, county councillor and mental health campaigner, said she has heard of young people stuck in Norfolk hospital beds, waiting months for an eating disorder bed to open.

"It's a national problem, these young people waiting for beds weren't waiting for a local bed they were waiting for a bed anywhere in the country," she said.

Emma Corlett, who has worked as a mental health nurse in Norwich for 14 years, and is media spokesma

Emma Corlett, who has worked as a mental health nurse in Norwich for 14 years, and is media spokesman for the Unison NSFT branch.

"We have had some tragedies of young people who have died from eating disorders but it doesn't seem there have been any lessons learned."

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, the eating disorder support charity, said the pandemic has had a massive impact on people with eating disorders and the charity has seen three times pre-pandemic demand.

"We recognise that steps have been taken by the NHS locally, such as recruiting more staff and partnering with the third sector, which we support.

"However, it is essential that every person with an eating disorder receives high quality, rapid treatment in their local area as quickly as possible."

At a meeting of the board on Thursday, a former NSFT patient gave her experiences of treatment.

Charlie* said her recovery had been pushed back after feeling let down by the trust.

“When I get poorly, my world closes down. I can only really explain it like blinkers and my blinkers get bigger and bigger until the only thing I can see or think about is how desperate I feel,” she said. 

Charlie said calling for help is hard, which made it difficult when teams kept telling her to call someone else, not giving her the support she needed.

Every time she called the trust she would then have to repeat her story, which she said “starts to erode that little bit of hope.” 

These experiences undid some of Charlie's progress and she went back into care.

Despite this, she said she had also experienced “kindness, compassion and respect” from other staff.

*Names have been changed

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