Sarah Newton MP seeks assurances over mental health support for students

Sarah Newton, the Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, has written to NHS chiefs in Cornwall to seek assurances over the provision of mental health services for students in her constituency.

Concerns over mental health provision locally were brought into focus by the deaths of two students on Falmouth University’s Penryn campus last year and a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) that found services run by Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust required improvement.

Mrs Newton wrote to Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt in January and has continued to monitor the situation closely in recent months, liaising regularly with local stakeholders.

Last week she wrote to Jackie Pendleton, chief officer of Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), following concerns raised in a meeting with GPs and university officials.

There were concerns over whether the local mental health system was fully prepared for a significant increase in the student population, given the expansion of Cornwall’s universities, and the impact the rise in numbers was having on the ability of young people to access support or treatment.

Some fear that longer waiting times, and the fact therapy courses are much shorter than elsewhere in the country, are contributing to a rising number of cases of poor mental health on campus.

Mrs Newton said: “It is hugely important to ensure all people living in Cornwall have access to high quality mental health services. I was pleased to receive a swift response from the CCG detailing how it was working closely with the university, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and other stakeholders to address the challenges and improve services as soon as possible, ensuring better outcomes and experiences for students.

“These include the completion of a pilot project aimed at helping students with a range of complex needs and closer links between the university and the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, comprising online support and more.

“We have so many students in Cornwall who are a long way from home, often for the first time.

“With demand for mental health services likely to rise in future, it is vital the authorities work closely together to ensure students get the care and support they need.

“I’m pleased that decisive action is being taken and will continue to monitor the situation closely over the coming weeks and months.”

An inquest into the death of university student Caitlin Cook, 21, who took her own life in April 2017, found she was not getting the care she needed.

Fellow student Jasmine Rook, 22, was found dead in her room in October 2017

The CQC report into Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust highlighted a number of issues, including staff shortages, at-risk patients not receiving treatment and difficulty for young people in accessing specialist support.

Mrs Newton said: “Mental health is a priority for the government and funding is at record levels.

“It was great to see Cornwall receive £1.5million recently to create a mental health hub to support people at risk of experiencing a crisis, while work is under way on Cornwall’s first mental health unit for children and young people at Bodmin Hospital.

“This investment is most welcome and will make a real difference for many people in Cornwall.”