Mental health services have never been in such a demand as they are in 2022. At the end of 2021, the number of referrals for specialist NHS mental health care reached a record high in England. NHS Digital told the BBC that there were 4.3 million referrals for conditions including anxiety and depression – and 1.025 million of these referrals were for children or adolescents.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said that in December 2021 alone, 1.8 million mental health consultations had taken place. This was a great feat, considering this was the same time the Omicron variant of Covid-19 swept across the UK. Despite this, however, around 1.4 million people were still waiting for treatment.
Mental health and Covid-19
It’s no secret that the events surrounding Covid-19 have had a significant impact on the mental health of many people across the UK and the effects are still being felt in 2022. The Office for National Statistics found that over two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) reported feeling worried about the effect Covid-19 would have on their life. Concerns were related to worrying about the future, feeling anxious and feeling bored.
While forced lockdowns and fear of catching a potentially fatal virus have been drivers for the worsening of mental health, other factors added to the situation. Furloughs and redundancies halted careers and caused financial strain while those working with frontline services had added stresses of continuing to operate through a pandemic.
This, combined with the lack of access to mental health services has ultimately made the situation even worse; and the backlog in cases has continued to rise even as we entered 2022.
National measures to tackle the mental health crisis
Back in 2019, the NHS released its Long Term Plan to tackle the mental health crisis and improve care. One of the headlines of this new plan was:
New and integrated models of primary and community mental health care will give 370,000 adults and older adults with severe mental illnesses greater choice and control over their care and support them to live well in their communities by 2023/24.
In a call welcomed by many, this was the beginning of the switch towards integrated care systems (ICS).
How does an integrated care system support improvement of mental health service access?
An integrated care system means NHS organisations, local councils and others must take collective responsibility for delivering NHS standards, managing resources and improving the health of the population.
The hope with ICSs is that patients will have greater access to a wider range of mental health services and that it will have increased priority in local healthcare planning.
Since the announcement in 2019, many ICSs have been set up across the UK. In February 2022, the first State of Integrated Care was released by NHS Confederation. The report revealed that 90% of system leaders believe they have been able to improve joint working. In fact, the pandemic had helped speed that process up as staff had to adapt quickly to the demands of care.
However, one concern being felt across all healthcare systems is the national workforce shortage and mental health services are no exception. Indeed, The Royal College of Psychiatrists explained that workforce shortages are causing “painfully long waits for [mental health] treatment”. In 2021, they found that 568 out of 5,317 vacancies hadn’t been filled. This is causing some patients to wait 18 weeks or longer for treatment. The current NHS workforce data shows there are 4,500 full-time consultant psychiatrists for 56.5 million people – that is one consultant per 12,567 people.
To address the workforce shortage in mental health services, The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for an extra 7,000 medical school places on top of the current 8,000 by 2029.
Health and Care Act 2022 and Mental Health
The new Health and Care Bill introduces various measures to tackle the backlogs accelerated by Covid-19 and rebuild health and social care after the pandemic. The funding is coming from the Health and Care levy which will generate £36 billion over the next three years. The Bill also contains measures to tackle health disparities and create safer, more connected services to make the health and care system more sustainable.
It furthermore aims to roll out more mental health innovations, such as one example at Somerset ICS. Here, a 24/7 helpline was set up to direct those looking for mental health support to voluntary, social care and NHS services. The scheme brings together doctors, nurses, psychologists, and charities such as Age UK, Citizens Advice, Rethink Mental Illness, and others through a shared recovery and care planning system, so all professionals involved in an individual’s care can communicate with each other. This means that patients are directed to the right service quickly, stopping them from bouncing around services until they find the right one.
The new healthcare bill and investment in mental health services are incredibly important. Mental health services have long felt neglected in national policy, so it’s great to see that change with the new bill, adding exposure to the support that is needed to reduce waiting times.
Even as this bill was put through to the UK government, mental health waiting times continued to rise. And it’s likely that challenge will remain, even as Trusts work to tackle the crisis. Furthermore, as patients waiting for treatment continue to rise, so will the scrutiny placed on mental health Trusts.
Increased scrutiny could necessitate the need for single pathway level patient tracking list (PTL) per Mental Health Trust, for example. This would require Trusts to be able to effectively record and manage all patients via such PTLs, yet many Mental Health Trusts may not be able to do so quickly as mental health pathways are complex and also for the fact that they have not faced this task previously. This is where Acumentice can support Mental Health Trusts.
Acumentice and mental health waiting lists
With ambitious targets now set out by NHS England for Mental Health services, there’s now an expectation for trusts to deliver them. Here at Acumentice, we are leading the work on introducing a set of systems to record, monitor and report whole pathways waits from referral to treatment as part of our data quality improvement services for Mental Health Trusts.
Beyond that, our data validation strategies will ensure you have the right information about every patient, allowing you to get through your mental health waiting lists to ensure all patients get the care they need when they need it.
With integrated care now required across the country, we are also working on ensuring these improvements in mental health trusts are taking into account the use of new and innovative technology to improve integration efforts and reduce administrative burdens. It’s vital that all services are able to focus on provision of clinical care with effective digital transformation to support efficiency gains.
For more information on how we can support your mental health trust, get in touch with the team today.