Norman Lamb announces task force to tackle “unfit for purpose” mental health services for children and young people

Norman Lamb, Minister for Consumer AffairsWhen your child suffers from a mental health problem, be it crippling, life limiting anxiety, devastating Depression, an eating disorder, schizophrenia or any other condition which causes them suffering and distress, you want them diagnosed and treated quickly and close to home. You want them to have that support for as long as they need it, not for it to be abruptly withdrawn at a particular date on the calendar.

There is nothing more devastating for a parent than to see your child suffer. You need to have confidence that whatever medical condition overwhelms them, they are going to get the help that they need.

If your child has an aggressive physical condition, a Cancer for example, they will most likely be treated very quickly. If they have a mental health condition which could pose as much of a threat to their life, that’s not the case.

We now that our Health Minister Norman Lamb gets it on mental health. He understands what needs to be done. He’s written extensively about his priorities on this site. He’s not one for spin. Unlike many politicians, he tells it like it is. Norman and his predecessor Paul Burstow between them ensured that mental health was given the same priority as physical health but implementing that and changing the culture of the NHS to reflect it is a much more long term job. Norman has given a series of brutally honest interviews today in which he acknowledges that children’s mental health services are not as they should be and sets out how he plans to change that. A task force will look at what needs to be done, making its recommendations next Spring ahead of the General Election.

He told the Independent:

There is an institutional bias against mental health,” he said. “Partly it’s because the media doesn’t concentrate on it. If the media stays silent, local commissioners, if they are not driven by doing the right thing, may make bad decisions. There needs to be the same focus on mental health as there is on cancer services, stroke services, knee replacements and so on.

The new taskforce will make recommendations on improving mental health commissioning for young people, reforming services to end the “cliff edge” which occurs when young people move from under-18 care to adult services.

Norman told a fringe meeting at the Glasgow Conference last year that in an ideal world child and adolescent mental health services would cover all those under 25 rather than 18 as is the current situation.

He’s given an interview to the BBC in which he said:

I’m setting up a task force and I’m crucially involving young people in this process to look at how we can modernise children’s mental health service, making the best use of the resources available….. We are working on out of date information about the prevalence of mental health conditions among children but we have the resource to commission an up to date prevalence survey…..We need to understand the prevalence and make sure we have the services to support young people.

He specifically mentioned self harm as an issue, something which has become alarmingly common, tripling in the last decade affecting 1 in 5 teenagers. That’s 20% of parents who are worried about this stuff, too. Surely the combined voices of those people, slong with the political will of a minister who gets it, should be enough to secure long-term change.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Tony Dawson 20th Aug '14 - 2:40pm

    This statement is much-welcomed. I wish Norman well. I remind readers, though, of John Reid,when Home Office Minister, declaring the Border and Immigration services ‘not being fit for purpose’. That was a considerable number of years ago and the Immigration service is still well-away from being fit for purpose. Let’s hope Norman does better than John did.

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 6:24pm

    It’s certainly good that mental health is beginning to be addressed. But mental illness is a significantly different beast compared to physical illness. To start with, we know far less about the causes of mental illness, let alone the cures, so anything we do has some degree of experimentation to it, which raises some issues. And most mental illness probably can’t be treated with a course of pills – though certainly it’s worth exploring that route.

    When your child suffers from a mental health problem … the root cause of the problem is quite likely to be you, or the family unit the child lives in, and/or your environment. Anxiety, for example, can be as much the result of inadequate or inconsistent emotional support as the result some form of innate characteristic or metabolic imbalance of the sufferer, though it can certainly be a biochemical effect sometimes. Problems of identity – who am I? – are as much about the environment of an individual as about the actual individual.

    Of course mental and physical health affect each other, and improving one can often help improve the other. Even so, because of the differences between mental and physical health, it seems to me that addressing the two different problems are likely to need very different skills and organizational arrangements.

  • Jenny Barnes 21st Aug '14 - 8:45am

    ” the root cause of the problem is quite likely to be you, or the family unit the child lives in, and/or your environment”
    Like austerity, neo-liberalism, no prospect of fulfilling work or a home of one’s own?

  • Richard Dean 21st Aug '14 - 1:26pm

    @Jenny Barnes
    Like parental conflict, absence of care and support, focus on self rather than child, favouritism, isolation, wrong teaching, punishment rather than discussion, abuse, mental and physical cruelty. Poverty my make things worse, yes. But some of these things don’t get noticed, and happen in what appear to be “good”, well off families. Just recently I listened to a mother explain to me how she thought a child should be brought up, and in my private view she was describing how to be cruel. Part of the explanation was that that was how she herself was brought up.

  • Richard Dean 21st Aug '14 - 2:25pm

    @Reg Yeates
    Thanks for sharing, and I am sorry to read of your troubles. Yes, there are many causes of depression and other mental health issues. To some extent your sad story illustrates some of the other things I listed, such as isolation and absence of support. Also a lot of stress at a critical time in your life. Your story is also helpful because it illustrates some of the major differences between mental and physical issues of diagnosis and treatment. No stethoscope sees a troubled mother. No pill really provides emotional help! Personally I’m sceptical about hereditary explanations, though possible.

  • Gwyn Williams 22nd Aug '14 - 1:13am

    As a family living in Wales we have had too much experience of CAMHS. Much depends on the clinical psychologist involved. For my son who is on the autistic spectrum, we had one brilliant psychologist who worked with speech therapy, the county behaviour support team and contributed to the Statement of SEN. But that lasted for 6 months. 2 years later a different psychologist, was very concerned about breaching the 16 weeks waiting time and then talked at my wife and I for 4 two hour sessions but refused to meet my son or approach behaviour support.
    By contrast when my daughter started to develop anorexia,/bulimia, there was no mention of waiting times and the cross discipline approach was swiftly implemented. Prompt action resulted in her recovery in less than a year. Frankly the Welsh Assembly Government has seen the poor state of mental health services and has developed grand strategies which have achieved little. Norman Lamb’s intervention in England is to be welcomed.

  • James Plunket 1st Sep '14 - 2:17pm

    @Gwyn Williams – Which local area team supported you and your daughter? It feels that need should be acknowledged for their positive approach. Having supported my own daughter through 18 months of an eating disorder (EDNOS – AN), we also experienced a rapid referral into our CAMHS team in Oxford. Whilst we were very lucky, I cannot say that our experience was typical. Having met many parents at various group workshops, it is clear that early diagnosis is often missed by GPs which leaves families “free falling” for nearly 6 months before their child is seen by a CAMHS team or a specialist eating disorder team. These early weeks and months are vital. Excellent research at the Maudsley Hospital shows the value of early interventions (working with the family) by specialist eating disorder teams. I truly hope that the task force will look closely at the value of funding such teams in order to prevent the long-term and poorer outcomes for patients and families (and the increased costs of treatments and associated support).

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