People requiring support and treatment for their mental health are at risk of not getting the care they need, and of their conditions deteriorating due to increased demand brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, and constraints in what services can deliver.
While the peak of coronavirus has largely passed in England for now, and efforts continue to contain localised outbreaks, health leaders have warned that the peak in demand for mental healthcare in England is yet to come, and that the sector needs intensive support and investment to be ready to manage it.
In a report published last week the NHS Confederation has found that providers of mental healthcare moved quickly and responded effectively to protect patients and adapt their services at the start of the pandemic, for example by setting up 24/7 crisis phone lines and implementing digital approaches – and this was while public and political attention was focused largely on how acute hospitals would be able to cope with the admissions due to the virus.
During its peak, providers saw a 30-40 percent average reduction in referrals for mental health support, but this was only temporary, with some providers now reporting the number of patients that they are treating is higher than pre-pandemic levels, and the Confederation expect this will rise sharply due to the backlog and because of the broader impact that the pandemic is having on the population’s mental wellbeing.
Some providers are predicting a 20 per cent increase across all of their mental health services, while also facing a 10-30 percent reduction in how many patients they can care for at once because of the required infection control and social distancing measures.
Six helpful tips
Helpful tips from the NHS about your mental health include
- It is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry in a crisis like this.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Smoking, drinking or taking drugs won’t help you deal with your emotions.
- Keep connected with friends and family by phone, emails and social media.
- Be kind to yourself and others, and use the skills you’ve used before to deal with stress.
- Don’t worry yourself by watching or listening to too much news
- Get advice you can trust from the NHS
The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that an additional 500,000 people will require support for their mental health in the next two years, while it has been reported that there was an increase in people searching online about self-harm during lockdown, which can be an indicator for a higher risk of suicide.
The NHS Confederation is calling for members to be supported nationally to understand how demand for mental health services will vary from area to area as the pandemic continues and for appropriate financial and staffing resources to be allocated. Building on how local organisations have worked together so far, integrated care systems should also help lead these efforts.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said: “Although being away from the political spotlight, mental health services across the country have faced unprecedented challenges due to coronavirus which they have responded to remarkably by innovating and moving to different ways of working to protect their patients and staff.
“But we must not be fooled into thinking that the worst is behind us. There is a rising tide in demand for NHS-funded mental healthcare associated with the pandemic, which we expect to remain high for some time and will be felt long after the physical health crisis across acute and community care subsides.”
Source: NHS Confederation
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