UNITED KINGDOM: Approximately 8 million people in England with mental health issues are unable to get professional help because they are not considered sick enough to qualify for the help, NHS leaders have revealed as the toll of the pandemic is laid bare.
The figure is in addition to the official waiting list for NHS mental health care, which stands at 1.6 million people, including 374,000 under-18s.
The figure, given by mental health trusts and NHS Providers, underscores the disappointing gap between the growing need for treatment of mental health problems and the ability of the NHS to treat them.
NHS England is understood to view the figure of 8 million, which is based on the known prevalence of mental health conditions and the thresholds dictating who gets access to treatment, as an accurate assessment of the number of those who are missing out on care because services are already so busy making the waiting period trouble for people as well, especially given the Covid pandemic’s damage to mental wellbeing, or because people do not qualify the criteria to receive the required medical assistance.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents England’s 54 specialist mental health trusts, said: “These estimates are dismaying. It is deeply concerning that around 8 million people are struggling with their mental health but are unable to access care because they are not yet deemed to be unwell enough.
“This shows the extent to which, sadly, NHS mental health services, despite significant improvements, are still unable to give people the immediate care and support they need. Behind every one of those 8 million is an individual who would benefit from treatment. This is the treatment gap we urgently need to close.”
The 8 million includes people who have self-harmed or has suicidal tendencies, those suffering from bipolar disorder, psychosis and mental health problems related to pregnancy and childbirth. Such people need to be referred for talking therapy; receive support from a community mental health team; get psychological help in school; or be treated by an eating disorder or crisis mental health team. But under current circumstances, access to such help has not been within limits for people.
“As a minimum, the mental health sector needs [an additional] £850m a year to treat at current levels and deal with the backlog, plus a minimum of £2bn to deal with the most urgent capital demands [for upgrading units and building new facilities],” said Cordery.
NHS Providers’ plea for more mental health funding comes amid ongoing discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) about how much the health service’s budget needs to rise by in this autumn’s comprehensive spending review. NHS England also recently unveiled plans to bring in five new waiting times standards intended to give people much quicker access to mental health care. However, there are doubts as to whether the health service has enough staff to deliver on the pledges, which include care for those in urgent need within one, four or 24 hours.