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Background and aims

In England, the number of reports of poor mental health and mental health conditions has risen in the student population (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2021). There has been an increase in the number of students presenting in crisis and sadly 64 university students died by suicide in England and Wales in 2019-2020 (Office for National Statistics, 2022).

Large numbers of students engage with both university and NHS services. However, communication between universities and the NHS is yet to be streamlined. Instead it has been variable and often based on individual people and their network of contacts.

The aim of this project was to improve partnership approaches to student care by developing a standard operating procedure to ensure that students in crisis are supported in a joined-up and systematic way. 


The project developed the Liverpool model, comprising the following two services coordinated through clinical partnership meetings.

U-COPE - (University – Community Outpatient Psychotherapy Education)

U-COPE service delivers therapeutic interventions to students who self-harm. It is a campus based therapy which offers a six-session blended model of psychodynamic interpersonal therapy (PIT) and cognitive analytical therapy (CAT).

U-COPE acknowledges clinical evidence that self-harm is linked to the risk of suicide. It also tests the innovative psychological intervention already being locally used by MCFT in hospital and community outpatient settings.

For more information on the U-COPE service, please visit the Office for Students U-COPE page.

The student liaison service

The student liaison service has developed essential links between university and NHS services, closing the feedback loop more effectively and enhancing partnership approaches to risk management of students in crisis.

  • Students who contact the MCFT crisis support phone line or present at A&E in crisis are asked for their consent for the student liaison service to contact them.
  • A student data field has also been added to NHS systems which allows the team to ascertain need more effectively for the student population.
  • Practitioners are then able to follow up with these students after a crisis situation, and signpost to support, refer into appropriate services or ensure the students are supported via a brief intervention.

Outcomes and benefits

Outcomes of this project are:

  • By June 2022, 526 students (higher education and further education) had been seen by the Mersey Care Urgent Care Team
  • 299 students have been referred for U-COPE therapy.
  • 429 students have interacted with the student liaison service, receiving advice and guidance for next steps following a crisis. 100 of these students have been referred on to appropriate NHS services.
  • Evaluations of the U-COPE service have been extremely positive, in particular the accessibility of the service and speed of referral.
  • Early indications from the evaluation of project data indicate a significant improvement in clinical outcome measures for participants in U-COPE therapy.
  • The links between the universities and the NHS have facilitated better signposting and availability of care at the right time for each individual.

“The ‘working in partnership to improve student mental health’ project has enabled Mersey Care and our university colleagues to collaborate and develop a successful partnership, using shared processes to ensure students can access the right support and psychological interventions, which will allow them access to a safer, improved mental health provision.”

Donna Robinson, Director of Mental Health/Divisional Director of Mental Health Care, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust

Additional information

The project team have secured an additional year of funding for the Liverpool model, with a new extended partnership between:

  • The University of Liverpool
  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • Liverpool Hope University
  • Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  • Liverpool International College
  • Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust.

The partners are working together to fund the initial one-year expansion, with plans to develop a long-term funding plan.

Challenges which remain beyond the project are:

  1. Development of systems for information sharing which comply with consent and data protection requirements. Linked to national issues, this requires NHS England systems and data collection practice changes and is part of a wider piece of work with Universities UK.
  2. Implementation of more effective data collection and reporting of student usage of MCT and university services, would allow for real time service evaluation and population needs. Vital to this is clear identification of higher education students and the different services with which they interact.

For more information on this project, visit the Office for Students website and the University of Liverpool website

The aim of the ZSA Case Studies is to introduce users to a range of examples of new and innovative practice, with the broad aim of working to support people with their mental health, bring awareness to and help prevent incidence of suicide. Please seek further information by contacting the ZSA and appropriate professional input prior to making a decision over its use.

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Content last updated: 16/01/2023

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