Warning over demand for mental health services due to Covid-19

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NHS bosses are braced for a ‘scary’ surge in demand for mental health services off the back of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials say inpatient services in the region were largely spared during the first wave of Covid-19 infections.

The impact of lockdown restrictions, bereavement and a faltering economy have combined since the summer to leave health chiefs facing the prospect of a major influx in the coming years.

“Being locked down can have significant effects on mental health and they are some of the people coming through services who have not been known to us before,” said Jennifer Illingworth, director of operations at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which is responsible for mental health services in Richmondshire and elsewhere in North Yorkshire.

“We’ve tried to predict what the total system need for mental health will be, for anyone providing a [mental health] service.

“It gives quite a scary number over five years of about 160,000 extra referrals – of those we predict about 47,000 would come as secondary care.

“We’re now trying to look at how we can invest more in the front end of mental health services, to meet needs of early intervention and prevention so people don’t need [hospital] services.”

Illingworth was speaking at this morning’s meeting of Durham County Council’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

Of the total number of expected extra referrals for some form of mental health service over the next five years, more than a third are expected to be under 17.

A 24-hour mental health support phone line has been set up to try and deal with ‘lower mental health needs’ as part of efforts to keep on top of demand.

However crisis teams offering emergency help remain ‘very busy’, while all of the trust’s inpatient beds are currently in use, with spare capacity snapped up almost as soon as it becomes available.

But bosses say they are most concerned about the number of people since the start of the pandemic who have entered the mental health system for the first time and have immediately sent for hospital treatment.

Ms Illingworth added: “It’s been really busy over the summer and that continues.

“We’ve had a cohort of people coming straight to being admitted to a mental health bed who we have never seen before, who we’ve never seen as a community service user.

“Instead they’ve come in with quite a high level of need so we’re trying to work out what might have brought people in, because it’s unusual for someone to come in straight to a bed.”