Mental health support in schools will help to tackle a "tsunami" of children in need of help, an NHS trust meeting heard.

The Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) joint scrutiny committee was told of a "fundamental system change" which had been needed for years in child mental health services.

They were discussing changes and improvements being made in the wake of recent critical reports from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulator.

Cathy Byard, speciality clinical director for CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services), talked of the pilot of mental health support teams in schools, a 12-month training programme where clinicians and services work with schools to support children where they are seen most regularly.

She told the Darlington Borough Council-hosted meeting at Roseberry Park Hospital in Middlesbrough: "This is a real push and a drive.

"It's something I've been talking about for years. It's a brilliant add-on to what we've been providing.

"This is a fundamental system change. It's brilliant. It's what we've needed for CAMHS for years.

Read more: Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust told to 'urgently improve' by watchdog

"We just need to keep selling the message, building the relationships. We need to keep saying we're working with you. We're starting to get some young people coming through that are starting to articulate that message.

"So it will happen. I'm absolutely determined it'll happen, but it might take a little time.

"I think as... we start to get the outcomes, that's going to give it the traction it needs."

He said they were aiming for "50% coverage in Teesside" next year.

Speaking of other changes, she added: "We're wanting the system to be more flexible and responsive.

"We're really starting to think about piloting an integrated approach to see if this makes a difference, and we're going to share learning.

"(We're) really wanting children and young people and families to get that flexible access to service. And we're starting to see a real reduction in caseload numbers."

James Gray, general manager of Tees Valley CAMHS, referred to two-year waiting lists for specialist autism assessments.

He said: "The referrals on to that pathway have gone up by over 300% pre and post-pandemic.

"So it's just completely off the scale."

Read more: TEWV - Trust chief faces stark accounts of ‘let down’ staff and patients

He said they wanted to transform the system with a long-term plan to improve young people's mental health and emotional wellbeing.

He said it aimed to help people with different needs using various methods to stop "bottlenecks", ease demand and support people with complex needs.

He added: "Teesside is quite advanced with this. We are really starting to see some good improvements with that, particularly in Teesside."

Jennifer Illingworth, director of operations and transformation for CAMHS and learning disability services, said they had seen an increase in demand, particularly in lower level needs.

She said: "We're trying to forge those links with other people out there who can provide that much more quickly and efficiently than we can.

"It's been on more people's radars. More people are being referred in.

"We've had a bit of a tsunami into the service which means within the waiting lists are probably children with more significant needs that are not getting seen as quickly as they should because of all the people with the lower level needs.

"It's not that they don't need to be helped because they absolutely do. It's just them going to the right place at the right time.

"You're doing really well on Teesside. You're quite far ahead."

She explained how they had stepped up staff training, kept in touch with children on waiting lists and worked on clearing caseloads.

She said recruitment was "still an issue" for inpatient services but "we're trying really hard and we're trying some creative ways of doing that", and a poll found 86% of staff who responded thought the service was going in the right direction.

She said: "It's not going to be a quick fix. But actually they can see where we're going and why we need to get there and how we're going to do it together and making staff feel they're part of that plan."


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