Demand for mental health services to rise due to COVID-19

A report from the NHS Confederation has forecast that the peak in demand for mental healthcare in England is yet to come as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to have an impact.

In a report published today (Wednesday 12 August), the NHS Confederation found that providers of mental healthcare responded effectively to protect patients and adapt their services at the beginning of the pandemic.

During its peak, providers saw around 30%-40% reduction in referrals for mental health support, although this was only temporary, with some providers now seeing a higher number of patients being referred to their services than pre-pandemic levels.

The NHS Confederation expects this number to continue to increase due to patient backlog, and also because of the broader impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the public’s mental health.

According to the report, some providers are predicting a 20% increase across all mental health services, and also face a 10%-30% reduction in how many patients they can care for at the same time due to necessary infection control and social distancing measures.

The Centre for Mental Health has predicted that an additional 500,000 people will require support for their mental health over the next two years.

Concerns are also rising for frontline mental healthcare professionals, particularly BME staff who are at greater risk of COVID-19, including the likelihood of burnout and workforce shortages potentially posing a threat to mental health.

The NHS Confederation is calling for national support to understand how demand for mental health services will vary from area to area as the pandemic continues, with financial and staffing resources to be allocated efficiently.

“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,” said Sean Duggan, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network.

“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,” he added.