By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
There is an “unrelenting” mental health crisis in Kent.
Around 15,000 patients are relying on mental health support across the south east of England and London, described as a “significant caseload” by NHS bosses.
Referrals have risen from around 85 children per month in March 2021 to 140 in February 2022 at North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT). This marks a jump of 65% in the last financial year amid the pandemic.
Kent County Council (KCC), which commissions the service along with the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), reviewed the crisis during a public meeting earlier this week.
KCC’s shadow cabinet member for public health, Cllr Karen Constantine (Lab), said: “The growth in the caseload, how are we going to be able to keep pace with that?”
NELFT says it is meeting the challenges and mobilised quickly to manage the increase, which has been described as “unrelenting” in one of its reports published to the panel last week.
NELFT says more investment has been made into enhancing the workforce and new projects are being created, such as giving help to youngsters growing up with a sibling who has a lifelong disability. The Trust says there is also more counselling access.
Outdoor activities like gardening are being explored, along with art and music therapy, according to NELFT chiefs.
Gill Burns, who is the interim deputy director at NELFT, said: “It can be really instrumental in their recovery, how they express themselves. We actively encourage that as an organisation.”
However, Sevenoaks Town county councillor Richard Streatfield (Lib Dem) described the current situation as a “crisis”.
One Sevenoaks resident ended up travelling to Manchester to get mental health support, he said. The delays gave “considerable” cause for concern.
Cllr Streatfield said: “The requirement of NELFT is growing exponentially faster than it is able to deal with. There are no easy choices.”
New services have been commissioned in the last six months to respond to the increasing demand from children and young people within Kent.
These include specialist bereavement services and emotional support for children as well as a rise in the number of diagnostic assessments.
Cllr Andrew Kennedy (Con), who is one of Kent’s mental health champions, said he is “worried” about the “hidden demand” of adolescents not coming forward.
Calling for a deeper dive, he said: “My main concern are of young people, particularly adolescent boys, who are the hardest to reach. I fear that stigma for a 14 and 15 year old boy admitting he needs support.”