The Week, 15 April 2022

15 April 2022
By Sebastian Rees

Any hopes for a quiet Easter recess were dashed this week. If you’ve been focusing on the latest round of the partygate saga, we’ve got you covered on what didn't make the headlines.

On Tuesday, the Health Secretary issued a call for evidence on the forthcoming cross-government mental health plan. It was very kind of him to wait until we were ready to publish our report ‘A revolution in mindset: addressing the youth mental health crisis after the pandemic’ before putting it out!

The paper that accompanies the Government’s call for evidence places a big focus on young people. This is important — one in six young people are estimated to have a mental health disorder and getting to grips with this problem is vital if the Government wants to spread opportunity, boost education recovery, and avoid big, long-run public service costs.

Our top tips for doing that? Collect comprehensive data and use it to build mental health plans; enhance the role of schools in promoting wellbeing; and explore the potential of digital and community support to make sure that all young people can access help. It’s all in the paper — do give it a read!

Also this week, the University of Manchester released its biennial survey looking into GP job satisfaction. As the front door for almost all health services, how General Practice is doing makes a huge difference to how the NHS operates as a whole. The top lines — around a third of GPs are planning on quitting direct patient care in the next five years and among GPs over 50, this figure jumps to more than 60 per cent.

Overwork and increasing time pressures are the key concerns for many GPs. There is a straightforward explanation for that. Demand for GP services has increased but GP numbers have stayed relatively constant over the last decade. That stands in stark contrast to hospital consultants, who have seen their ranks swell by 55 per cent in that time. Big GP recruitment pledges have failed to deliver and our health system remains dominated by acute hospitals. Reversing this trend is key to improving outcomes for patients and reducing costs for taxpayers.

Finally, this week the Government released its plans for its £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). The UKSPF is a key plank of the levelling up agenda and matches funding previously allocated by the EU. There are some promising elements in the Government’s plans — genuine devolution, meaning local authorities can decide how money best spent and a real focus on evaluation to ensure that change is being delivered on the ground.

However, it looks like the UKSPF’s funding allocation will bake in many of the problems of the EU streams it replaces. As this Institute for Fiscal Studies’ explainer notes, funding will remain skewed towards certain regions — notably West Wales and Cornwall — and leave similarly deprived areas such as South Yorkshire and County Durham lagging behind. The former will receive up to 8 times more per person than the latter. Failing to develop a more rational funding model looks like a big missed opportunity. 

Here’s what we’d recommend reading over the Easter long weekend...

Once you're finished with our latest report we’d recommend this article by Dr Claire Goodfellow and colleagues in the Journal of Adolescence. During the pandemic, many were concerned that social isolation was having a big effect on young people and this article confirms a close link exists between loneliness and poor wellbeing in people aged 16-24. The authors argue that helping young people build close community ties and strong personal relations is key to promoting wellbeing in the long term.

Speaking of community, this paper by researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Hull looks at how we can maintain the momentum created by community mutual aid groups after the pandemic. One of the (few) real positives of the last two years has been a revitalisation of community spirit and rekindling of supportive local relationships. Even on conservative estimates, more than 4,000 mutual aid groups sprung up during the pandemic to provide support in their local area.

Leveraging the potential of these groups should be a key focus for policy makers in the coming years. The researchers recommend that local authorities develop a better understanding of the support networks that exist in communities and collaborate with them in tackling complex social problems. Hear hear!