Care delays causing mental health crisis in Essex

8 July 2019, 08:20 | Updated: 8 July 2019, 08:23

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A new report by Healthwatch Essex claims that young people in the county are experiencing mental health crisis - because of delays in care.

Researcher Hannah Fletcher spent six months visiting Poplar Adolescent Unit Education Centre based in Rochford Community Hospital, working to understand young people's experience of being treated in a secure unit.

The research revealed that delays to treatment were common and ranged from being because of waiting times through to the young person not seeking support because of fear of stigmatisation.

A number of participants in the study discussed how they had been struggling with their mental health for a long time prior to getting a referral and, even after referral, continued to wait for long periods.

The report also revealed that a number of patients had initially entered the health system via A&E after experiencing a form of mental health crisis. Five participants were subsequently discharged from A&E without any physical or mental health treatment and another eight received treatment only for their physical injuries, even though it was obvious that their injuries had been self-inflicted.

Research and Engagement Associate, Hannah, said:

"The experience of the young people I spoke to, demonstrated that there is still a way to go in achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health in the county. Whilst many of the young people did receive crucial, often life-saving treatment, in A&E the root cause of their admission to hospital was not addressed, which ultimately led to repeat episodes of crisis and a deterioration in their mental health.

"An ongoing commitment to upskilling A&E staff to spot symptoms of mental health and understand the most appropriate courses of action could play a significant role in young people receiving the treatment they need sooner. We also know that the first adult a young person speaks to about their mental health, or who notices the signs of distress, plays a crucial role in their ability to access appropriate support. Improving mental health literacy among teachers, GPs and parents therefore continues to be vital.

"It is important for those who commission services to understand that the mental health of these young people tended to deteriorate, sometimes to crisis point, during the time they were waiting to access support, so early intervention and prevention are crucial."

David Sollis, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Essex, said:

"This report undoubtedly makes for difficult reading at times but we hope that, in hearing these voices which are not commonly heard, the whole of the health and social care system in Essex can come to understand the needs of these young people more clearly.

"We are very grateful to the Poplar Adolescent Unit who facilitated our engagement with their patients and staff. Their hard work and devotion clearly makes a lasting impression on the lives of the young people they work with.

"We are hugely thankful to the young people whose voices are central to this report. We appreciate that it can be difficult to talk about such personal and sometimes painful experiences but we are very grateful that they did, because it offers an opportunity for their experiences to shape the way that services are designed and delivered in Essex in the future."

Andy Brogan, Executive Operating Officer and Deputy CEO at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust commented: "We welcomed the opportunity to work with Healthwatch to enable the voices of the young people we care for to be heard.

"A number of the young people featured in the report commented on how the treatment they received at Poplar adolescent mental health unit (Poplar unit) made them feel better, more positive and enabled them to progress in their recovery.

"Around one in ten children experience mental health problems. Sadly, many of the young people admitted to Poplar unit have reached a crisis with their mental health.

"The team at Poplar unit work in partnership with each young person and their family/carers, to provide them with an individual package of treatment and support. This support is tailored to their assessed needs, and is reviewed regularly with them.

"Early treatment is key when treating children and young people with mental health problems. We would strongly encourage parents and/or carers to seek help and advice from their GP if they have concerns for their child’s mental health."