SWEET! report urges innovation to engage hard-to-reach youngsters

Local NHS and social care services have much to learn from the experiences of young people in Essex living in deprived areas, says a new report titled SWEET! that has been published by Healthwatch Essex.

The Charity joined forces with Achievement Through Football (ATF), a local community-based affiliated football club, to engage with over 200 local young people considered ‘hard-to-reach’ in the Southend, Castle Point and Rochford areas. These include young people living in social housing, those at risk of exclusion from school, ex-offenders, and youngsters in the gypsy, traveller and Roma communities.

By working in partnership with an organisation already known and trusted by these young people, Healthwatch Essex was able to find out about their personal and often very difficult experiences of NHS and social care services.

The participants were asked about their experiences of social services and family life, youth offending, housing, mental health, public health, GPs, hospitals, A&E and walk-in centres.

The SWEET! report (Services We Experience in Essex Today), published on Thursday 3 March 2016, found the young people had valuable stories to share. Despite using a range of services, these young people often did not get the support, treatment or advice they needed.

“It seemed to take forever for anyone to take me seriously or help me,” said Ryan (not his real name) in relation to his struggles with mental health issues.

Too often, these youngsters felt as though they were not heard or viewed as important. This in turn could lead to unhealthy behaviour and a lack of concern for the consequences of their actions or their futures.

The SWEET! report makes a number of recommendations that health and care services can use to better engage with young people. These include making services more joined-up; making sure young people are aware of the support they can access; working with trusted sources in their community to provide information and support; and promoting walk-in centres, pharmacies and NHS 111 as alternatives to A&E.

The findings of the report are being shared with NHS and social care decision-makers following the report launch at a special meeting in Southend-on-Sea on Thursday 3 March 2016.

And the story doesn’t end there, with Healthwatch Essex already starting to plan SWEET! 2 which will be launching later this year and focusing on marginalised young people in Tendring.