First NHS Sussex board meeting discusses county's health priorities

Children’s mental health will be one of the priorities for the newly formed NHS Sussex Integrated Care Board.

The issue was raised during the board’s inaugural meeting, which was held in Worthing on Wednesday (July 6).

A report presented by Alison Challenger, director of public health for West Sussex County Council, laid out rising concerns relating to mental health and wellbeing in children and young people.

As well as mentioning the increasing number of referrals to specialist mental health services, the report said there had been ‘high rates’ of youngsters admitted to hospital in East and West Sussex and Brighton & Hove for intentional self-harm.

Alison Challenger, director of public health for West Sussex County Council

Other areas of concern for the board included an increase in obesity rates among primary school children.

Changes set out in the Health and Care Act came into effect from July 1, with 42 Integrated Care Systems (ICS) replacing the GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups which had been responsible for the planning and commissioning of many primary health care services for their local areas.

The Sussex ICS covers the east and west of the county as well as Brighton & Hove.

It will agree the strategic priorities and resource allocation for all NHS organisations in Sussex.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Its four key aims are:

Improving outcomes in population health and healthcare; Addressing inequalities in outcomes, experience and access to healthcare; Enhancing productivity and value for money; and Supporting broader social and economic development.

Ms Challenger was the first to add work to that ‘to do’ list.

She said: “The last two years have particularly had quite an impact on our children and young people.

“We can understand some of that – the data and the evidence is showing us that levels of child obesity have increased over the last year and there are other elements coming forward around children’s mental health.

“I think it’s important to take that initial data and start exploring what that means in our places and in our communities.”

Ms Challenger felt it was important to hear from local communities and to build their experiences into the planning, adjustment and arrangement of services.

She added: “Certainly the demands on mental health services for children is high and it is clearly going to be one of our priorities.”

Dr Dinesh Sinha, Chief Medical Officer at NHS Sussex, said £8m had been invested over the last financial year for specialist mental health services.

He added: “The health needs of children and young people have really increased over the pandemic and [there’s] some concern about how well do we address these and prepare for them.”

That investment will continue over the coming year.

Dr Sinha said NHS Sussex wanted to work ‘really closely’ with partners such as social care to ‘make sure the services we provide are geared towards providing the best quality of experience’.

Other information presented in the report said Sussex had a ‘relatively good’ record when it came to infant health, though improvements had stalled.

Both East and West Sussex had ‘significantly higher’ hospitaladmissions among children aged 0 to 14 for unintentional and deliberate injuries.

And a ‘statistically significantly lower’ percentage of children in West Sussex and Brighton & Hove attained a good level of development at the end of their Reception year.

This was compared to the rest of the South East, with concerns raised about the impact of the lock-down on children’s development.

Adam Doyle, NHS Sussex Chief Executive Officer, told the meeting that a Sussex-wide children and young persons board had been set up, reporting directly into the ICS leadership forum.

Children aside, Ms Challenger’s report highlighted cancer and heart disease as the top cause of death in Sussex, followed by neurological diseases (including dementia) and chronic respiratory diseases.

The need to address health inequality was also high on the list of priorities, especially in coastal areas.

Health inequality is the problem of unjust and avoidable differences in people’s health, the care they receive and the opportunities that they have to lead healthy lives.

Sussex is home to 1.72 million people, with life expectancy ranging from 79.2 years for men in Brighton & Hove to 84 years for women in East Sussex.

Healthy life expectancy is much lower, ranging from 63.1 years for men in East Sussex to 65.6 years for men in Brighton & Hove.

All those figures come in higher than or equal to the national average, apart from the healthy life expectancy of women in East Sussex.

At 63.3 years, this is seven months lower than average.

Looking at risk factors and prevention, there are some clear problems, smoking being top of the list.

The report said Brighton & Hove has one of the highest smoking rates inthe South East, with 17.5 per cent lighting up.

In East Sussex the figure is 12.6 per cent and in West Sussex it’s 10 per cent.

At least half of the adults across the county are estimated to be overweight or obese, with 29 per cent of Year 6 pupils measured as overweight before the pandemic.

On top of that there are more than 99,000 people on the GP diabetes register.

When it comes to alcohol, higher risk’ drinking is greatest in those who earn the most money.

But hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions are highest in the most deprived groups.

The report said that the percentage of adults drinking 14 units or more per week ranged from 41 per cent in Brighton & Hove to 24 per cent in West Sussex.

A ‘significantly higher’ number of people in Hastings and Arun have been hospitalised for alcohol-specific conditions – 801 per 100,000 and 674 per 100,000 respectively in 2020/21.