Representatives from across health services, higher education sector and students have come together to discuss ways to improve local students’ wellbeing and mental health.

The event on February 15 was organised by Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) working across Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, Wessex, and Oxfordshire and Thames Valley in partnership with NHS England/Improvement.

This work has become more pressing since the pandemic, which has had a greater impact on students compared to those from the wider society. We’re hearing from students that “It’s difficult to navigate around services, especially when you’re a student doing it by yourself,” and “I’m really struggling right now, but I’ve been told not to book a GP appointment unless it’s an emergency. I’ve been told not to go to A&E if I’m in crisis.”

This valuable context has allowed the group to ensure that young people are placed at the centre of the project, with the event demonstrating genuine collaboration and desire to effect change.

More than 100 people from a variety of organisations including universities, NHS Trusts, Voluntary and Community Sector, commissioners, IAPT providers and Students Unions attended the event to help inform and share good practice.

Discussions highlighted the challenges within the systems and ignited a passion to work together in our local regions to collaboratively share best practice and develop solutions that enhance the mental health of our student population.

Commenting on the event Dr Katrina Lake, Assistant Director of Mental Health (Clinical), Mental Health Clinical Delivery Team, South East Region said:

“As a regional collaborative of NHS innovation organisations called the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) working with NHS England and NHS Improvement, we were delighted to see such excellent engagement in this important area.  We look forward to working across higher education, healthcare, local authorities and third sector organisations in the South East to support the mental health and wellbeing of students which has been significantly impacted by the pandemic.”

There are 15 AHSNs across England, licensed by NHSE to spread innovation at pace and scale. In the South east the Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS), Wessex, and Oxford AHSNs, are working with NHS England and NHS Improvement colleagues to support the student mental health agenda. This programme aims at establishing local networks to address the challenges within the mental health service.