Students Staff

21 March 2019

Restructuring our wellbeing services

Filed under: Latest news — ckeitch @ 12:45 pm
Angela Jones, Head of Student Support

Angela Jones, Head of Student Support

Angela Jones, our Head of Student Support, answers your questions and tells us more about the restructure of our wellbeing service.

Where can I talk about my mental or emotional health?
Support is available to all our students and can be accessed via theStudent Services Hub at your campus .

Colchester Campus Student Services Hub
Southend Campus Student Services Hub
Loughton Campus Student Services Hub

Why did you make changes to the wellbeing service?

Feedback from the SU Change Week identified a clear desire for more interventions, a wider range of support and counselling for more people. Feedback from students with individual needs has identified a need to make our community more inclusive. Responding to this feedback, we wanted to implement new ways of promoting wellbeing, increase the volume of counselling and the number of students we can offer advice to as well as reduce the waiting time for students to be seen.

How were staff and students engaged in the changes?

We worked closely with the Students’ Union to understand student needs and feedback. As we move forward, the SU will be a key partner in shaping service delivery.

Feedback from staff was considered in developing the new vision for student wellbeing. The Trades Unions were consulted as part of the change and key staff were informed of the proposals.

How many students can now receive counselling?

The changes were driven by a need to increase counselling by 30%. In the period October 2018 – January 2019, 218 students were referred for counselling. This compares to 261 students receiving counselling between August 2017 and July 18.

Can all students receive counselling?

The University continues to offer short term counselling. Students are prioritised based on their need and the issues they want to discuss. For some students, referral to specialist support is more appropriate.

Four sessions are available for those who are identified as benefiting from counselling. Our counselling delivery aims to support students to be able to continue with their studies. The number of sessions is in line with a number of NHS services. The Chair of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy University and College Counselling Division indicates that the sector norm for higher education is 4.4 sessions.

Students are prioritised based on their need and the issues they are presenting.

Why did you choose to use an external contractor to deliver counselling?

We chose to move to a single mode of delivery across all three campuses. Our experience of working with a counselling service at Loughton and Southend Campuses demonstrated the flexibility it is able to deliver in responding to increases in demand at certain times of the year, which means we can avoid long waiting times for students.

Whilst most sessions are delivered on campus, the external service also enables students to be seen in person when they are away from campus on placement or during the vacation periods.

Why is there a still a long wait for counselling?

Our agreement with Validium who deliver one-to-one counselling for our students is for them to see 95% of student referrals within three weeks – and they have told us that they are currently meeting this target.

We are aware that there were some issues at the end of the Autumn Term and the beginning of the Spring Term when they struggled with demand. We manage referrals and will continue to monitor the waiting times. If you or someone you know has been waiting for more than three weeks, please inform the Student Services Hub so we can liaise with Validium about this.

Why does the University now charge for counselling?

Four sessions are available free of charge.

Why do you only deliver counselling over the telephone?

Most of the students receiving counselling are seen face-to-face at one of our campuses. Students can opt for telephone counselling or counselling away from campus if they choose. The 24 hour telephone helpline is available for anyone who needs to talk.

Why did you replace counsellors with non-qualified staff?

Counselling continues to be offered by suitably qualified and experienced staff via a third party. Following the reorganisation, new job descriptions were created for the service, the majority of which required mental health qualifications. Staff taking initial appointments with students are not required to have mental health qualifications; rather to have skills and experience suitable for the role. We have used this practice for initial advice for mental health for nearly 15 years.

The counselling service operates within BACP’s Ethicial Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy and all counsellors are and would continue to be BACP accredited and managed by a Clinical Lead employed by the University.

Why has the service chosen to use academic staff, peers and the V team to replace counselling?

These mechanisms are not a substitute for counselling services. Following the Wake Up to Wellbeing Survey, run by the SU, and SU Change Week, the SU recognised the importance of peers in listening to and referring their peers. These positions have been created to signpost students.

The survey also demonstrated that students often approach their personal tutor for support with their mental health. We plan to support staff to listen to students and make appropriate referrals. We do not expect academic staff to deliver specialist mental health support.

Why are students being told they can’t have counselling?

We prioritise counselling as one of the options available to students. This isn’t always the most appropriate option at the time. Other support can include support from an adviser to link with specialist services eg drugs and alcohol, providing advice and support, eg on exam arrangements, the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA), one-to-one strategies, support or workshops. We talk to each individual who about the range of options available to them. This has not changed.

Why did you privatise Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) mentoring and tuition?

Disability services haven’t been privatised. The University ceased to deliver activity through the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) at Colchester, an approach which is consistent with provision at Southend and Loughton.

We were previously delivering this service on behalf of funding bodies through the Disabled Students’ Allowance. To access the support students need to apply to their funding body and go to an assessment of need. The assessor is required to recommend the two cheapest quotes in the local area. The funding body then chooses the cheapest. As a result of these changes and an increase in local and national agencies delivering this support, the University was not able to compete financially and therefore, many students were already being referred to external agencies. As a result, we chose not to continue to act as an independent supplier.

Suppliers’ quality is governed by and regularly assessed by the regulatory body (DSA-QAG). This support is available from other DSA-QAG registered providers.

Why is the University no longer willing to be accountable for student welfare?
There has been no change to accountability for student welfare. Referrals to counselling are managed by a counselling manager employed by the University .

Why are students being asked to manage their own appointments?

The service can support individual students in setting up their appointments however it needs to be the individuals’ responsibility to manage their own time. Anyone having concerns about this issue can discuss their anxiety or techniques with the team.

Your mechanisms are putting a strain on the NHS

The service was reorganised to be able to offer more appointments to students including counselling to an increased number of students. However, we recognise that we are not a substitute for services provided by the NHS.

We are developing joint working with the NHS to improve access for students. An example of this is the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) workshops that are to be run on campus for students and staff. The University is not responsible for the demand on NHS services or responsible for determining their provision to the community.

Residence Life and Nightline are ill-equipped to respond to student mental health crisis.

Residence Life services are being reviewed this year with a view to increasing the number of staff responding to incidents out-of-hours and referral for students. Residence Life permanent staff currently support student staff and there are clear lines of referral for student mental health crisis.

We think students have an important role to play in supporting their peers by offering listening and initial guidance with appropriate referral mechanisms. These are not a substitute to professional services available from the student wellbeing and inclusivity team.

Disability and MH services are harder to access
We have increased the number of appointments by 80% at Colchester. We used to ask students to contact us on the day to book a same day appointment. Students can now drop in to see one of the team when we are open and it is convenient for them. We are now taking enquiries by telephone and email rather than asking all students to present in person. In a recent survey of students using the service who had used the service last year, 67% of respondents felt the service had improved. While 33% of students were neutral, no one responding to the survey thought the service was harder to access.

Contact your student services hub if you want to speak to someone.

What about Southend and Loughton Campuses?

We’ve increased the number of mental health staff available at Loughton and Southend Campuses. This will increase the number of initial appointments as well as the range of interventions for students. DSA support and counselling was previously provided by external agencies at these campuses.

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