Action call over ‘unacceptable’ waiting times for mental health services for Sunderland children and young people

Jill Colbert, Together for Children's chief executive and director of children's services at Sunderland City Council
Jill Colbert, Together for Children's chief executive and director of children's services at Sunderland City Council

Action is needed to tackle “unacceptable” waiting times for young people’s mental health services, a children’s services boss has said.

At the end of February this year, 318 children and young people (CYP) had waited more than 18 weeks for treatment in Sunderland.

This includes 296 accessing Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW) services and a further 22 from Washington Mind.

The data was revealed at Sunderland City Council’s Children, Education and Skills Scrutiny Committee last week. (April 4).

And Jill Colbert, the head of Together for Children (TfC), which runs the children’s services department on Wearside, has called for action to tackle the issue.

“For any child to have to wait more than a few weeks is difficult but to wait 18 weeks is entirely unacceptable,” she told councillors at Sunderland Civic Centre.

“I think the problem with the data here is you need to understand it by patient level.

“We have the data for the numbers on the waiting lists now but we don’t know how many of them really were waiting in November and how many of them might still be waiting in another few months.”

The figures were provided as part of a presentation by Sunderland’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) on CYP services in the city.

Between November 7 last year and the end of February 2019, the total number of CYP patients waiting more than 18 weeks has jumped from 311 to 318 against a backdrop of increased demand.

Councillors heard that NTW foundation trust had targeted resources on reducing the number of CYP waiting over 18 weeks, but faced high numbers of referrals in January and February.

And Coun Bob Francis asked what work was being done to reduce waiting lists.

Health bosses confirmed NTW  foundation trust was focusing on “do not attends”, appointment times and text message services for patients.

A report prepared for councillors said Washington Mind’s increased waiting times were linked to a full-time counsellor leaving post and long-term sickness and absence.

In December last year, Sunderland CCG was awarded £77,800 from NHS England to help reduce waiting lists across providers.

This included £68,425 for NTW  foundation trust, with £30,000 spent on digital dictation equipment and training for staff.

A £5,000 boost for South Tyneside Foundation Trust has allowed the provider to secure licences and training for 30 members for online cognitive behavioural therapy training.

And £4,375 for Washington Mind has also seen the creation of a new counsellor post, allowing the charity to offer an additional 14 sessions per week.

Jill Colbert added closer links were needed with partners to “add value to initiatives that are trying to drive improvement”.

“What we need to do is to work really closely with NTW and the other providers to get under the skin of what they’re doing that’s working,” she said.

“What the data shows is that they have seen an increase in referrals so as they’re trying to deal with the waiting list, they’re also dealing with more referrals coming through.

“This could be because referrers, schools and GPs have heard there’s a waiting list initiative so they think a referral will go through more quickly.

“Actually, that’s just creating an increased level of demand.”

Senior Reform Manager at Sunderland CCG, Daisy Barnetson, agreed the waiting times data was a “snapshot” in time and that said it was important to look at historical trends around waiting lists in future.

“That would be more informative in terms of which direction we’re heading,” she added.

Provider Waiting Lists February 2019.

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Number of CYP on waiting list who had waited longer than 18 weeks:  296

Number on waiting list: 797

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust (including Sunderland Counselling Service)

Number of CYP on waiting list who had waited longer than 18 weeks: 0

Number on waiting list: 54

Washington Mind 

Number of CYP on waiting list who had waited longer than 18 weeks:  22

Number on waiting list: 129