Last year we saw a number of dramatic changes within UK Government, which had far-reaching impacts on wider society. As the dust settles in 2023, we’re reflecting on what the changes mean for young people’s health policy. In this blog post, Rachael McKeown provides an update on our recent work influencing national policy development.
National strategies set out Government priorities
With so much going on in the political sphere, you’d be forgiven for not keeping up with the latest developments in health policy. But there have been key developments that are worth sharing here. The Government recently announced the launch of a Major Conditions and Diseases strategy. While the strategy helpfully shifts away from silo working, towards a more integrated approach of physical and mental health, it also signals a move away from proposals to develop dedicated strategies on important areas like cancer and mental health.
There are concerns among the sector over scrapping the promised 10-year, cross-government strategy on mental health. The ever-growing rise of mental health need among children and young people requires attention, which may be lost in an all-age strategy that looks at major health conditions in the round. The level of need was highlighted in the Department for Education’s recent publication of the latest data exploring children’s mental health and wellbeing. The State of the Nation report revealed poorer wellbeing among girls and secondary school pupils, with increased reports in overall levels of anxiety. The recent evaluation of mental health support teams in schools (an important NHS Long Term Plan commitment) revealed positive improvements but demonstrated that some young people continue to fall through the gaps. Children and young people whose symptoms are not mild to moderate do not qualify for support and young people with SEN needs, ethnic minority young people and young people from challenging family backgrounds are all underserved by the intervention. We are at risk of exacerbating mental health inequalities among young people without targeted action.
The launch of the Major Conditions Strategy also marked the end of prior commitments to publish the health disparities white paper. This change means that health inequalities will not have the centralised Government focus that is required in order to adequately tackle the issue. Last year we published a position statement on young people’s health inequalities alongside members of the Young People’s Health Partnership, with the aim of ensuring young people’s needs are prioritised. We will continue to advocate for reductions in the health inequalities experienced by young people in the UK and remain a committed member of the Inequalities in Health Alliance, a coalition of over 240 organisations campaigning for a cross-government strategy on health inequalities.
A focus on young people’s health within policy development
Despite the shifting policy landscape, there continue to be opportunities for us at AYPH to influence policy and practice in young people’s health. There have been a number of recent inquiries from APPGs and select committees where we have submitted evidence on young people’s health and inequalities. You can read all of our recent consultation responses here.
The APPG for youth employment are exploring how young people with mental health conditions can best access high-quality employment opportunities. We shared evidence from our earlier work exploring the barriers faced by young people with mental health conditions, which include stigma, discrimination and challenges managing inflexible and complex systems. We recommend better link-up between local services that support young people, alongside long-term and individualised support packages.
The Government have released plans for schools to tackle “persistent absence” among pupils. The Education Select Committee are reviewing these proposals, looking at what disadvantages may prevent some young people from engaging with education. In our response, we called for a move away from data-driven tools that punish young people families. Instead, we recommend engaging with young people and families to consider the barriers to attending and what the solutions may be, recognising that different circumstances will require different solutions.
The Health and Social Care Select Committee are embarking on an ambitious inquiry into prevention. At this early stage, they are seeking input into the future direction of the inquiry. In our evidence submission, we highlighted the importance of prevention in adolescence for improving health outcomes across the life course. We also suggested the inquiry considers health inequalities as a key priority.
Integrated Care Systems
We have been working with the National Children’s Bureau’s Children and Young People’s Health Policy Influencing Group to input into the Hewitt Review of Integrated Care Systems. At a recent meeting we met with Councillor Tim Oliver, the co-chair of the integration and place workstream of the review. As a group we highlighted the importance of recognising the specific needs of children and young people within system wide planning.
We were pleased to see the launch of NHS England’s Core20PLUS5 framework for reducing children and young people’s health inequalities late last year. In this blog post we explained the model and how it can be used to deliver real change within NHS integrated care systems.