Labour conference: Burnham calls on local areas to prioritise mental health in schools

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 04 October 2012

Local health and wellbeing boards should be exploited as a means of preserving mental health support in schools, Labour's shadow health minister has claimed.

Andy Burnham wants councils to combine commissioning decisions over health and education. Image: Alex Deverill

Speaking at a party conference fringe event, Andy Burnham argued that health and wellbeing boards could be the “best hope” for young people, who are losing out on early intervention to safeguard their mental health because of public services reforms.

“Health and wellbeing boards are the best hope. I can’t think of any other forum that has the health responsibility but also that link in terms of the council’s other responsibilities,” he said.

He added that Labour-led councils were being encouraged to combine commissioning decisions over health and education wherever possible, to encourage early support for young people in schools and other children’s services settings.

“We’re getting them together in the same room to start talking about health and public health and starting to say, why don’t we all have a consistency in what we do? This needs to be on the education side as well,” he said.

Burnham, who used to be Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the government’s NHS reforms and increasing numbers of academies and free schools are a double blow for young people.

“The real danger is that it’s not just fragmentation in health but also in education – simultaneously,” he said. “What is the cumulative impact of that, particularly on children that might rely on the specialist end of what both offer?”

Lisa Williams is a child and adolescent mental health professional and member of Bond – a government-backed consortium that is currently supporting the voluntary sector to increase availability of early intervention mental health services.

She said any move to raise the profile of children’s mental health among health and wellbeing boards would be welcomed.

“Bond has heard from not-for-profit organisations that they feel they are struggling to access health and wellbeing boards across the country, and they don’t know how to get their views heard,” she said.

Burnham’s comments came after his keynote address at the conference, in which he raised the issue of mental health provision several times.

During the event, he admitted that mental health had often been an “after-thought” at the Department of Health when Labour was in government, adding that this needed to change.

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