My undergraduate module POLU9SP has four coursework requirements: (1) a policy paper, to raise a problem and feasible solution in 1000 words; (2) a blog post to summarise the issues to a lay audience; (3) an oral presentation/ Q&A based on the post; and (4) an essay to explain the policymaking context. I recommend this format, since it gives students the chance to be creative and research an issue that interests them. Our discussions then help them work out how feasible are their plans, and a round of presentations should show us the competing demands on policymaker attention and resources.
I have reproduced, below, a blog post from 4th year student Christopher Gilday, as an example of an excellent attempt to fulfil this task:
“A Study by the ISD suggests that up to 80% of suicide victims in Scotland did not have a psychiatric outpatient appointment for up to 12 months before their death. The study showed that suicide is now a major contributor of death for 15-34 year olds and highlighted a significant correlation between suicide and deprivation in Scotland. It also confirmed that the suicide rate for men is three times that of women, a point that Jane Powell, of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), has been making vehemently recently.
The ScotSID, which is observed and calculated annually, has consistently found a reoccurring number of deaths by suicide in recent years (around 790) which is concerning as there have been incremental increases in funding for mental health by the Scottish Government. Most concerning was a clear pattern which related the number of suicides to the time that patients had waited for a psychiatric appointment. 184 suicide victims were seen in 30 days of their death whereas 604 suicide victims weren’t seen for twelve months before their deaths. The study also claimed that as many as 80% of suicide victims weren’t seen by therapist in a year before they died.
The current target waiting time for psychiatric waiting times for outpatients, which was set in December 2014, is 18 weeks. This is in contrast to the policy for general outpatient times across the NHS which is set at 12 weeks.
Mental health is a distressing concern for Scotland above other parts of the UK with more people being affected by mental health and the Scottish Government has already acknowledged this by upgrading the legal status of mental health to that of physical health.
For this reason it seems the government should follow through this change in status by setting the outpatient target time of 18 weeks so it is at least akin to the general level of outpatient waiting times of 12 weeks.
However with the pledged £85 million for mental health in the next five years this should be bettered, as 50% of referred patients are already being seen in 8 weeks. The target however stipulates that 90% of referred outpatients must be seen in the target period and only 4 NHS branches actually have met this standard.Suicide in Scotland is an unresolved problem which needs to properly be addressed through mental health support. Too many suicide victims are not seen in time nor at all, and there is clear evidence showing that reducing waiting times reduces the number of suicides.
Using additional funding to employ additional staff, through telephone inquiries or ushers, or spending on alert systems that prevent excessive waiting is essential in reducing waiting times which must now be urgently addressed. Reducing waiting times for psychiatric outpatient appointments will reduce the annual number of suicides”.