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NHS bosses warn mental staff facing ‘burnout’ amid coronavirus pandemic

Ministers have been urged to provide extra support for mental health services

3 min read

NHS bosses have warned of "unprecedented challenges" facing mental health services in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NHS Confederation, which represents health services in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, called for "intensive investment" from the Government to prepare mental health teams for a surge in patients.

In a new report, the group said an initial drop in referrals at the start of the crisis had now reversed, with some health providers reporting they were treating more patients than pre-pandemic levels.

And they said some services were seeing a 20% increase in patients, despite being forced to cut their capacity by 10-30% due to infection control and social distancing measures.

It comes after the Centre for Mental Health estimated an additional 500,000 people could require support for mental health over the next two years as a result of the pandemic.

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation's Mental Health Network, said the sector had faced "unprecedented challenges".

"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," he said.

"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 subsidies."

Ministers have already pledged £2.3bn to the sector until 2023/24 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, but the group said the funding would not go enough to cover the additional costs resulting from the coronavirus outbreak.

And they warned that major workforce shortages and "burnout" among staff would continue to degrade services unless extra funding and support was provided to the sector.

"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," Mr Duggan added.

"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 metnal healthcare services, that means recognising that the crisis is far from over."

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: "We recognise the impact this pandemic has had on people’s mental health and we will continue to gather evidence and assess the potential longer-term mental health impacts.

"We have provided £9.2m in funding to national and local mental health charities to support adults and children affected by the pandemic, and we will continue to work with the NHS, Public Health England and others to support mental health and wellbeing at this time.

"Mental health services will expand further and faster thanks to a minimum £2.3bn of extra investment a year by 2023/24 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan."

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