Increase demand on mental health services due to coronavirus could lead to people missing out on the care they need, the NHS Confederation has warned.
A spokesman for the confederation said, during the coronavirus peak, mental health providers saw a 30-40% reduction in referrals for mental health support. This has since risen to above pre-pandemic levels.
The confederation said it expects the number of referrals will continue to rise sharply due to the backlog and the broader impact that the pandemic is having on the population’s mental wellbeing.
The Centre for Mental Health estimates that an additional 500,000 people will require support for their mental health in the next two years.
While mental health providers predict they will see a 20% increase across all of their mental health services, while also facing a 10-30 per cent reduction in how many patients they can care for at once because of the required infection control and social distancing measures.
The confederation has also expressed concern about the resilience and retention of frontline mental healthcare professionals who are at risk of burnout which could lead to workforce shortages.
In response, the NHS Confederation is calling for members to be supported nationally and for financial and staffing resources to be allocated appropriately.
The body is also calling for a national recruitment campaign focused specifically on attracting people into mental healthcare roles, and for increased funding for mental healthcare, including capital investment to support the expansion of digital approaches and to modernise physical estates.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, says we must not be fooled into thinking the worst is behind us.
‘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.
‘Providers are facing this with reduced capacity across their services, with significant funding constraints, and with a workforce that is close to burnout due to vacancy levels and the pressures placed upon them.
‘If these issues are not addressed, it could overwhelm services and lead to people having to wait longer for mental health support and their conditions deteriorating.
‘Above all else, the chancellor must stay true to his promise and give the NHS whatever it needs and for mental healthcare services, that means recognising that the crisis is far from over.’
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said councils need funding to help meet their communities’ mental wellbeing needs.
‘People’s mental wellbeing will play a crucial role in every aspect of the next phase of the pandemic.
‘This includes schools reopening, workers returning from furlough, people who have been shielding, and in dealing with the economic and housing consequences of coronavirus, as well as planning for possible further spikes in infections.
‘We need a new national focus on helping everyone stay mentally well, including those affected by COVID-19, backed-up by funding for councils to spend with local partners such as the voluntary and community sector, on meeting their communities’ mental wellbeing needs.
‘This should include a shift in focus and funding away from treating mental ill-health and towards a locally-led approach to promoting people’s mental wellbeing throughout their lives, to help prevent more serious problems from developing, alongside earlier intervention and targeted support for those who need it.’
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