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‘No Applicants’ for Vacancies as 500 Surrey Children Await Mental Health Treatment

Published on: 9 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 10 Dec, 2021

Surrey needs to recruit mental health clinicians. Image – Vladimir Fedotov

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Nearly 500 young people are waiting longer than they should for mental health treatment in Surrey but the service is struggling to fill vacancies.

The longest wait, from referral, is currently eight weeks, four times longer than the NHS Trust’s target.

Recruitment problems came to light in a “prevention of future deaths” hearing last week following the inquest of Staines teenager Oskar Nash, who took his own life last year.

Trudy Mills, director for Children and Family Health Surrey, was giving evidence on behalf of one of its providers Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and was asked by its lawyer if the NHS trust considered the backlog a problem.

She said: “Yes, we’re out for recruitment. We didn’t get any applicants so we went out again.”

She said the service needs band five or six registered mental health nurses and registered social workers with child and adolescent mental health experience, and in the meantime is having to use temporary staff.

Post pandemic, the service has received an average of 250 referrals a week, and over the past few weeks this has risen to 300, according to Justine Leonard, an operational divisional director with Surrey and Borders.

This is between 60 to 100 more referrals a week than it was receiving in 2019, when it failed to help Oskar, though it has tripled its number of clinicians since then, from four to 12. These 12 clinicians do all the screening and triaging, so they are each having to deal with about 25 referrals a week.

At the time Oskar was referred in September 2019, there were 2,500 children waiting to be triaged. This has now reduced to 490, so the backlog has gone down by 80 per cent despite the increased number of referrals.

Ms Leonard said: “We set ourselves an ambitious target of 10 working days” to treat young people placed in the routine category, while the UK mental health triage scale suggests a response within four weeks.

Surrey aims to see children in crisis within four hours and those classed as “priority” within 72 hours.

Since April this year, the county’s children and young people’s emotional wellbeing and mental health service has been delivered by an alliance of Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, National Autistic Society, Barnardo’s and Learning Space.

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