A GROUND-breaking mental health group has been praised by a national centre for excellence for its 'pioneering approach’.

An independent evaluation by the Centre for Mental Health of Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership said it should be congratulated for 'stepping out on an unknown and long road, for which no one had a map.'

The partnership, created in 2015, formally brings together six local mental health organisations from the NHS and the charity sector; Connection Floating Support, Elmore Community Services, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Oxfordshire Mind, Response and Restore.

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The review praised the partnership, which helps more than 6,000 people each year, for leading the way nationally as well as noting the 'significant challenges' over funding within the NHS and charity sector locally, which hampered large-scale change.

Last year an independent financial review found that investment in mental health services in Oxfordshire was considerably lower than similar areas.

National watchdog the Care Quality Commission noted in its recent inspection of Oxford Health, the results of which were published in December, that the trust was dealing with a £12m shortfall in mental health funding which required an ‘additional level of dedication and capability’ from trust leaders and staff.

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The evaluation by the Mental Health Centre into the effectiveness of the partnership looked at the way the service was run, finances and governance and asked the opinion of the public plus local people who use its services.

It stated: “Among the benefits of the partnership were improved joint working between organisations, greater financial security for third sector partners, and improved physical health monitoring for people using mental health services.

"The partnership has also faced significant challenges, predominantly as a result of external pressures, including overall financial constraints in the local health economy, difficulties in being able to bring about large-scale change in service provision and a recent rise in out-of-area hospital admissions."

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It added: “The review concludes that Oxfordshire has pioneered the model of outcomes-based commissioning in mental health and commissioners and providers should be congratulated for stepping out on an unknown and long road, for which no one had a map.

"There is a strong consensus among all stakeholders that the partnership should continue. In doing so, it has the opportunity to learn and adapt.”

Lesley Dewhurst, chairman of Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership, said: “We really welcome the evaluation because we’re so open to learning and developing the work we do to help the people of Oxfordshire even more. However, this can only be done if the historical underfunding of this contract is addressed.

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"It is great to see politicians taking an increasing interest in mental health as more and more people are seeking help for these issues. We want to be in a position to help them even more.”

The partnership has also been shortlisted for Best Not-For-Profit Working in Partnership with the NHS at the Health Service Journal Partnership Awards 2020, described as the 'Oscar of the healthcare world'.

Visit omhp.org.uk/.