The NHS and its partners in Gloucestershire are trialling one of the first children and young people’s social prescribing schemes to reduce the build-up of mental health problems following the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 50 children are now getting tailored care to help prevent long term mental health problems as part of the Gloucestershire scheme.

They are being proactively contacted and offered a 6 week face-to-face course on mental health resilience including personalised support with issues such as anxiety or educational difficulties.

It also includes general topics such as the importance of going outside, appropriate relationships, having fun, healthy eating, managing emotions, friends and family. For parents it can help with parenting skills, routines and boundaries.

Annie Anderton is a Children and Young People’s Prescriber at Central Cheltenham Primary Care Network (PCN) who works for Caring for Communities and People, a voluntary sector organisation working with the NHS to deliver the scheme in Cheltenham.

She said: “By working more smartly with our data we’ve learned that one of the biggest local problems in Cheltenham is people with mental health issues aged 25 to 45. We’ve seen an increase in mental health crisis due to COVID so it’s imperative we help as early as possible.

“The children being offered this programme are not known to other services so we’re supporting a group who otherwise might not have received any help. This really is advanced proactive care and we’re very excited to be able to identify and help so many young people and positively influence their lives much earlier.”

Cheltenham Central PCN was recently part of a pilot scheme to increase proactive care for adults – called population health management – by identifying people who might benefit from low level support earlier.

GPs, nurses, social prescribers, the local authority and many other health and care workers collaborated on the project to identify areas of health where specific groups of people could benefit from a new type of support.

Research says children and young people who have experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences are more likely to develop COPD, depression and make an attempt on their life. By increasing the child’s resilience these statistics are dramatically reduced.

Parents of children who might benefit were written to privately by Annie’s team via the six GP surgeries involved and asked if they would like to meet with the social prescribing team, under no obligation.

“So far, no one has turned us away and in fact parents are delighted to receive some extra help,” Annie said. “This is about building resilience and helping parents and their children to get some support or learn more if they feel they want to.”

One parent who is working with Annie said: “It’s been brilliant that the GP surgery have helped my child before a problem develops. I want my child to grow and flourish and that is what Annie and her team are helping them to do.”

Dr Olesya Atkinson, a GP at the Berkeley Place practice, said: “The GP workload at the moment is very high but even though we’re under pressure we know this is the right thing to do for these young people.

“GPs mainly work with people who come to us with an established medical problem, but digital technology and working together with our local government and voluntary sector colleagues now helps us support people much earlier.

“It feels great to know we are reaching out to people proactively and offering them a caring service that can spend time with them, understand more about their wider needs and offer support.

“We’re not just making people better; we’re improving their life health and reducing the futures pressures on our GP team as well.”

Cllr Carole Allaway-Martin, chair of Gloucestershire Health and Wellbeing Board, said, “Many young people have experienced hardship and emotional challenges as a result of the pandemic; and the most vulnerable in our society will have been particularly affected. I’m very pleased to see Gloucestershire is part of this pilot to help more children receive support to overcome whatever challenges they face, which will play a part in helping families and communities to recover.”

All over the country GPs and colleagues in Integrated Care Systems are using Population Health Management techniques to identify and help people at risk of developing more serious health conditions. Help includes interventions like social prescribing, specialist group consultations, help with housing and debt problems, multi-disciplinary clinics and medication reviews.

This improves individuals’ health and well-being and reduces pressure on the NHS and wider partners.

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