Individuals themselves will be able to make direct contact with the facilities - or be referred by medical professionals, the police or other public and voluntary sector organisations.
An initial response service is expected to be up and running in each of the county’s five NHS sub-regions - known as integrated care partnership areas - by April next year.
Round-the-clock telephone support will be available, with trained call handlers gathering information, providing advice and, when necessary, referring individual cases to clinicians for specialist triage. That process will take into account an individual’s “immediate needs...and risks”, according to papers presented to a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s health scrutiny committee.
Depending on the outcome, patients will be directed to an appropriate service - with routine appointments being booked there and then - or, if their problem is considered urgent, they will be seen face-to-face within the hour.
Chris Oliver, chief operating officer at the specialist mental health provider, Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (LSCFT), said that urgent assessments could take place “either in the individual’s home or within a mental health setting”.
He also described the initial response services as being “one number for any mental health concerns”.
The facilities are being developed in addition to a broader nationwide overhaul of mental health services, designed to make them more community-focused - for which the Lancashire and South Cumbria region has been given £11.6m in funding.
The new model will remove the concept of “thresholds” for care and is intended to avoid the need for multiple appraisals - meaning that a patient only has to describe their experience once.
“If someone is unwell and in need of support, they should receive it, as they would in acute care. If that service turns out to not be quite right, then the system should be flexible enough to offer other options,” papers presented to the committee stated.
Community mental health hubs made up of specialist practitioners, social care staff and voluntary sector groups will be accessible via local primary care networks - groups of GP practices providing services across a neighbourhood area. They will also include peer support workers who have themselves had personal experience of mental health issues.
LSCFT chief medical officer Dr. David Fearnley said that the approach was designed to “avoid an unnecessary stay in hospital” for people facing mental health difficulties.
“It’s always an issue for me how...people who are disconnected, disenfranchised [or] isolated [get] the care they need. We think this is a more diverse model, with more partners, to try and help those people - otherwise they fall down between our services,” said Dr. Fearnley, who told the committee that the community model was showing good results in other areas of the country where it was already being applied.
Mr. Oliver added that the services would reflect the nuances of need across the Lancashire and South Cumbria patch.
Committee chair County Cllr David Westley described the changes as a “welcome development”.
However, committee member and Preston city councillor David Borrow warned of the need to commission suitable housing support for people with mental health issues living in the community.
He said: “One of the things we have seen in Preston over the last 18 months or so is the development of houses of multiple occupation owned by, in some cases charities [or] not for profit companies, providing very low levels of support - and yet charging £250 a week to provide a room when the going rate for housing benefit in Preston is about £70.
“There [are] lots of examples that have emerged in Preston...of vulnerable people being placed in these properties without [adequate] support,” said Cllr Borrow, adding that there were several organisations he would be “very wary” of commissioning to provide housing support.
The LSCFT representatives pledged to investigate the issue further.
HELP AT HAND
Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust already operates a county-wide mental health crisis line number, which is open 24 hours a day - 0800 953 0110.
A wellbeing helpline and texting service is also available on weekdays between 7pm and 11pm and weekend from 12noon, offering emotional support - 0800 915 4640 or text 'Hello' to 07860 022846.
‘THE SYSTEM IS COMPLICATED EVEN FOR EXPERTS’
The boss of a Preston charity which helps homeless people who may also have mental health problems says he would welcome anything that simplified the process of getting somebody referred to the right service.
Jeff Marsh, chief executive of The Foxton Centre, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the forthcoming changes would be “a God-send”, particularly for families who do not know where to turn when trying to seek mental health help for a loved one.
“It’s complicated even for us as professionals to navigate through the system - so if there is to be a single point of contact, that would be really good.
“The system is just confusing - for instance, there are long-established crisis teams, so people think they can ring them up and they’ll be able to deal with [whoever needs help]. But they actually only deal with people who are already known to mental health services.
“Your first port of call at the moment is your GP - but certainly some of the people we help may not have a GP.
“So anything that makes it easier for people to get into [the] service and get an assessment and referral to a clinician has got to be good,” Mr. Marsh said.
He added that the pandemic had taken a particular toll on the mental health of young people - another group with which the charity works. He said that they were now “struggling in lots of different ways” and would also benefit from rapid assistance.
However, the initial response service is currently intended for people aged 16 or over.