THERE is “no magic wand” in dealing with child mental health issues, according to Dr Tony Machin, nonetheless he and his university are playing a crucial role in training the next generation of therapists who might just make the difference to thousands of young lives.

Dr Machin is academic lead for Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Programmes at Northumbria University. The university is one of six collaboratives chosen under a national initiative which sees universities working with clinical partnerships in the NHS and voluntary sector agencies such as Mind and Barnardo’s to deliver evidence based therapeutical training to their workforces.

The aim ultimately is to improve access for children and young people to psychological therapies, tackling issues such as anxiety, depression and self-harm, while cutting waiting times.

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Northumbria University, which is being funded by NHS England, is covering an area from Hull in the south right up to the Scottish borders. The various approaches being rolled out include cognitive behaviour therapy, family therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and parenting interventions.

A former mental health nurse, working with those with addictions, Dr Machin has helped over the past five years develop and run a series of therapist training programmes at the university.

“Since 2012 we alone as one of the six sites have trained more than 300 people who work in children’s mental health services, so it is a positive story,” he explains.

The work being done is set against the background of a Government policy promoting the notion that physical and mental health should have equal parity.

“In reality we are in a period of austerity and we are working within a system with a limited amount of resource,” says Dr Machin.

“But this national initiative has quietly been beavering away in the background and has resulted in some significant achievements. People are sent to do the therapist training programmes and then NHS England funds someone else to work within their service in a process known as backfill so it doesn’t impact on waiting lists too badly.

“Overall it is a transformational approach, we train service leads and work with clinical supervisors and actual therapists so their interventions are more targeted and effective. The goal is to be more strategic about developing the workforce, whereas training before was more fragmented.

“Previously it was also unheard for services to be able to send this many people away on training at the same time.”

Attention has now turned to developing a programme for a new type of worker, a ‘children’s wellbeing practitioner’. A similar role has long been established in adult services and aims to detect potential problems early so that any intervention is less intensive.

“We’ve developed a children’s services version of that preventive-type role and we will be training more people in it next year,” says Dr Machin.

“When the Government said they were putting another £1.4bn into services, this was one of things they were looking to push on with.”

The Government’s five year forward view for mental health envisages 1,700 therapists being added to the workforce nationally, while a ‘recruit to train’ policy is seeing people fast tracked into therapeutic roles who will work in schools and be aligned to GP practices.

“A lot of this is about skill mix, it is about getting the right balance within a service of people who have got the various skills needed to respond to the issues that are presenting,” says Dr Machin.

“It is looking at what is needed, where, in what capacity, in order to respond to the need that we know is going to be there.”

A recent review by the Care Quality Commission found that four in ten mental health services for children are failing and young people in some cases are being forced to wait as long as 18 months for treatment, worsening any condition they have. In response, NHS England stated there had been a 15 per cent increase on spending on young people’s mental health services in the past year.

Dr Machin says that the CQC findings were disappointing, but audits have shown waiting time improvements and things are improving.

“What we are looking at is evolution rather than revolution in terms of the time this is taking, as research and evidence inform practice and move the whole thing forward,” the 57-year-old says.

“This particular involvement with the children and young people’s mental health initiative for improving access has been particularly rewarding. To work in partnership with people in clinical areas of practice and services at the frontline and with a bunch of people who are so committed from their own perspective to make something happen it is very rewarding.

“There’s a lot of difficulties around mental health which are there to be addressed and parity is a long way off, but we are moving in the right direction.”