Published: 10:00, 05 March 2021
| Updated: 10:26, 05 March 2021
A £51 million package to transform mental health services across Kent by 2026 has been unveiled.
The "ambitious" NHS plan will seek to radically improve care for dementia patients, including those with complex needs and challenging behaviour.
Chiefs at Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) say greater investment in mental health services is needed as they have forecast a major rise in demand from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns.
Caroline Selkirk, who is the CCG's executive director for health improvement, said: "We are in a fortunate position that we have unprecedented levels of funding and investment available in mental health over the next five years."
Her comments came during a virtual debate involving a panel of elected members on KCC's health scrutiny committee.
It comes amid a worrying reduction in the number of people receiving a diagnosis for dementia as vulnerable and elderly residents across Kent have been told to avoid visiting GP surgeries for their health and safety amid Covid.
Karen Benbow, who is the Kent CCG's director for system commissioning, told the KCC health committee: "We are expecting the pandemic to have had an impact on capacity to cope as a patient and as a carer.
"We expect there will be increased demand for dementia services."
It comes almost a year after a divisive decision was made to close a specialist hospital dementia unit in Sittingbourne called Frank Lloyd.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he did not believe the closure was in the best interests of Kent and a robust "case for change" was made.
Specialist hospital services for patients with complex needs will be developed as modelling is carried out to forecast demand, according to health chiefs.
The proposal comes following a Kent NHS public consultation, carried out from last October to January, gathering "open" views of families living with dementia, health care workers and the wider public.
At the meeting, Ms Selkirk reiterated throughout the pandemic residents have continued to receive dementia support and there is no backlog of cases.
Gravesham Borough Council's cabinet member, Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox (Lab), said the "absolute focus" should be on prevention rather than a "cure" through early help, citing Safeharbour memory wellbeing centre in Northfleet.
Meanwhile, a Kent mental health learning disability and autism improvement board is also being set up, which will include input from the NHS, social care, local authorities and the voluntary and community sector.
Its priorities will include reducing unnecessary hospital admissions, removing outdated and unsafe wards and to redesign local mental health services.
Improvements will also be made to specialist psychiatric care for women in Kent, who currently require aid from outside the county.
Tunbridge Wells county councillor Sarah Hamilton (Con), described the news as "encouraging" and "positive".
A further NHS update will be presented to councillors at the next KCC health scrutiny meeting on Tuesday, June 8, starting from 10am.