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Blog: Social Prescribing Day

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Posted 10th March 2022

In social prescribing week, we spoke to Darren Huart from our Children and Young People team about our involvement in the Safety Nets project.

Safety Nets is a community-based social prescribing intervention combining physical activity and psychoeducation for young people on mental health service waiting lists.

The demand for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) services is at an all-time high and research has shown children and young people referrals have increased by 26% in five years. Nationally, 50% of children and young people that are assessed wait more than 18 weeks to start treatment and over 3% wait over 12 months.

Safety Nets bridges part of the gap between being referred and receiving treatment and is a collaborative project involving local CAMHS teams and professional football and rugby clubs.

The project aims to create therapy groups for children aged 11-16 to improve their mental and emotional wellbeing. Each therapy group runs for two hours after school in term time, one hour focussing on physical activity, led by the club, and one hour focusing on mental health education, led by CAMHS staff. The groups are run at a local club for eight weeks with each weekly group focusing on different aspects of physical and mental health.

Chesterfield FC Community Trust were doing this sort of thing but with adults who were struggling with their mental health, alongside Dr. Ryan Dias who has a background in children’s mental health. He uses a really good analogy that if you break an arm or a leg, it’s put in a pot and you’re given painkillers to deal with the pain while it’s healing and you’re waiting for the next step. With mental health – particularly in children and young people – they’re not given anything until they’re referred and seen by clinicians or practitioners.

Ryan’s had really positive discussions with friends and colleagues in hospitals and universities that there is something really promising in the Safety Nets concept, and it just needs the evidence base behind it.

Our role in this – as it often is – is connecting all the dots. The big bits we have done is funding the research for the feasibility study. COMIC York will conduct the study that will ask, “Is eight weeks the right amount?; is two hours the right amount?” It’ll hopefully then go to full scale trial towards the back end of 2023, using the evidence the feasibility study provides to shape that.

We’ve been recruiting the sports clubs and CAMHS practitioners across several districts. We fund a number of those sports clubs to be part of this, alongside Creative Minds. We’re also knocking on doors to recruit the CAMHS staff and practitioners to deliver. It’s very much connecting and influencing, to bring those people together and supporting them to get up and running.

The doors are definitely open in terms of that, because those involved in healthcare understand the importance of physical and mental health, and the pairing of those together. The barrier we obviously face is that those services are so stretched, just getting time to talk with CAMHS teams about the programme has been really tough.

But generally, the reception has been very good, and there’s a strong belief that combining the physical and mental health elements, along with the social connection, really fits in with the NHS social prescribing model.

Before coming to work at Yorkshire Sport Foundation, I did 18 months in a pastoral role at a secondary school, where you’ve got young people knocking on your door at 8am with the struggles of teenage life.  Even then, back in 2016, as a pastoral lead my answer then was to refer them to CAMHS, but it was a 16-week wait. If they’ve already reached the point to knock on a door and ask a teacher for help, you’re having to tell them they’ll need to wait another four months for that help.  The system has only got more stretched in the last six years.

It’s going to take a lot of bravery for the young people to come through the door in session one, especially if they’re dealing with anxiety, low mood or depression. The model is there and the early research is seeing young people removed from the waiting list for CAMHS, which is a fantastic result. At the very least we hope that it is bridging that gap to accessing more services.

The next phase is tying it down to a model that works, supported by the evidence. We’d hope before the end of this year, all nine of the districts we work in are delivering this. Some of those districts are starting delivery anytime now, and in this academic year we’d hope to have other sites back up and running where they have delivered previously. But the real hope is that this can be a systems change piece of work that is embedded across NHS Trusts.

We need to align outcomes and objectives of the NHS and also that of sports clubs and ourselves. We need to understand the health sector better, and to understand the barriers CAMHS staff might be experiencing.

It’s a project with the potential to make a real impact on a stretched CAMHS service, and on the young people we’re all trying to support.

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