Keir Starmer demands ‘urgent’ boost to mental health services in bid to tackle ‘hidden cost’ of coronavirus
Keir Starmer: “Our health and care workers are heroes – but they are not invulnerable" (PA)
Sir Keir Starmer has called for an “urgent national package of mental health support” to support frontline workers amid the coronavirus crisis.
Writing in The Independent, the Labour leader said the Government must “ensure mental health services have the resources they need to cope” both during the pandemic and beyond.
He said: “The hidden cost of the pandemic is the impact on the collective mental health of our nation. Mental Health Awareness Week is always a poignant moment but this year it feels more important than ever.
“We must help each other through the worst of this crisis, particularly our key workers who are at the front line of the pandemic, those living alone or people who have lost a loved one.
“And when this crisis is over, we must build a better future: one that puts both mental and physical wellbeing at its heart.”
Sir Keir also highlighted a recent Royal College of Psychiatrists survey which found that just 0.1 per cent of the NHS workforce had used the dedicated mental health hotline.
The same study warned that mental health services will face a “tsunami” of cases following the Covid-19 outbreak, following a 43% increase in urgent and emergency mental health cases since the end of March.
Medical professionals are facing “overwhelming pressure” on the front line, Sir Keir said, and “fear for their own health” due to lack of protective equipment.
He added: “Our health and care workers are heroes – but they are not invulnerable.”
The Labour leader also raised concerns about the wellbeing of the general population, insisting that the Government needed to “step up” support, especially for those most at risk.
“Of course, healthcare workers aren’t the only ones who are struggling.
“This is an immensely difficult time for all of us. The isolation which many are experiencing during lockdown is having a huge impact, particularly on those with existing mental health conditions.
“Meanwhile, families who have lost loved ones are often unable to properly say goodbye, worsening the trauma of their bereavement.”
His comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was pledging an extra £4.2 million to mental health charities earlier this week.
Speaking at the Downing Street daily briefing, he said: “I want to say this to anyone who has been finding it hard. These are tough times. It is OK to be not OK. And it is normal to feel low, anxious, or unhappy sometimes.
“But it is so important that if you think you need it, please seek help. If you want to talk to someone, please, go to the NHS - it is there for you.
“And if you are a health or care worker, there is bespoke series of support so we can care for you just as you care for us.”