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Health: Transition to Adult Health Services

Volume 754: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure the continuity of standards of care for teenagers with long-term health conditions who transfer to adult NHS services, as recommended in the Care Quality Commission report From the Pond into the Sea.

My Lords, our 2013 pledge to improve health outcomes for children and young people included the ambition to co-ordinate care around the individual young person with complex needs to deliver the best experience of transition to adult services. The partners to the pledge—including NHS England and Health Education England—are working to deliver this. Our mandate to NHS England calls for improvements in the way that care supports smooth transitions between children’s and adult services.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. He will know that this is a worrying report and that it would appear that young people with long-term health conditions often fall through the net when they transfer to adult services. He said that the mandate to NHS England requires it to do something about this, but can we be confident that NHS England actually will take note of what Ministers ask for? I would just refer him to the inability of NHS England to implement the Winterbourne recommendations and its failure to fund mental health services in accordance with parity of esteem. Does the mandate amount to anything at all? Too often Ministers have come to this House and said that something would be done, but nothing has actually happened.

I think that I can reassure the noble Lord on this point. NHS England is currently developing service specifications across the range of commissioning models: specialised commissioning, CCG secondary and primary care commissioning, adolescent mental health and special educational needs, and learning disability. Those will translate examples of best practice and published outcomes into specifications for commissioning to hold providers to account for the delivery of robust transition services with measurable quality standards attached to them.

My Lords, there is a particular problem with young people who have not only physical problems but very considerable mental health problems. Is a priority being given to help that group of children?

The noble and learned Baroness is quite right, and as she well knows, this has been a long-standing issue. Our document, Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health, which we published recently, identifies the transition from child and adolescent mental health services into adult services as a priority for action. We are supporting the work of NHS England to develop the service specification which I have just referred to. CCGs and local authorities will be able to use that specification to build excellent person-centred services that take into account the developmental needs of the young person, as well as the need for age-appropriate services.

My Lords, problems arising at the transition stage are often reported by the parents of these young people because they are their carers. Does the Minister agree that standards of care must include support for those much-needed parent carers?

I fully agree. I think that much of this will succeed only if services work together around the needs of young people as well as their families and carers, and if the families and the young people themselves feel involved in the way in which their care is being organised and planned.

My Lords, in terms of developing the specification, can the noble Earl tell us how stakeholders are to be involved? In particular, will the young people themselves now have a voice? I declare an interest as the president of Little Hearts Matter, which deals with children with single-ventricle problems.

I think that we can pay considerable tribute to the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum. It is one of the bodies that have highlighted the need for more effective transitions and for new outcomes indicators to measure them. Its framework for this year includes a proposal that, where possible, all data should be presented in single-year or five-year age bands up to the age of 25 to support better monitoring. Moreover, the forum asked the National Network of Parent Carer Forums to develop a narrative of what good integrated care looks like in transition. The CQC report has drawn quite heavily on that report in its conclusions.

My Lords, the Teenage Cancer Trust had to battle for years to get NHS commissioners to understand that age-specific rather than gender-specific wards are better for young people. It is a good organisation, but it has been a hard job to change the mindset of the NHS. Can he help organisations such as the Teenage Cancer Trust to find ways in which to influence commissioners far more quickly than they have been able to do in the past?

My noble friend raises another extremely important point which applies not only to cancer, but also particularly to mental health settings. We have had many debates in this Chamber about age-appropriate settings. I will take her point back with me and find out where we are in our dialogue with stakeholder groups.

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell the House whether the commissioning will specify autism in the service specifications? Further, will the NHS England staff who are responsible for implementing these measures be trained to deal with the issue of autism?

The noble Baroness raises an important point and I can reassure her that we are addressing the full range of complex needs in children and young people. She may also be interested to know that Health Education England will be working with the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to develop a training course that will allow GPs to develop a specialist interest in the care of young people with long-term conditions. The aim is to introduce the course in September 2015. It will include a particular emphasis on the transition from childhood.

Do the Government recognise the need for a champion, such as we have had with Dr Lidstone in Wales, who has completely transformed the transition for children with life-limiting illness?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a good point. I would remind her that the national clinical director for children, Jackie Cornish, is also the national clinical director for transition, so it is very much centre-stage for her.