An unprecedented surge of demand for mental health services will wipe out years of hard-won progress unless there is sustained investment, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.
In June of this year, nearly 1.5 million people received mental health support, the highest number since records began. The backlog is also staggering as NHS England estimates that 1.6 million are still waiting for treatment. However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists predicts the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
The upcoming November Spending Review will, therefore, be a critical moment for the future of mental health services. To tackle the mental health backlog, the Royal College is calling for a significant funding boost on top of commitments already outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan and the Government’s £500m Mental Health Recovery Action Plan announced earlier this year.
Sustained investment in services is needed to meet the substantial growth in demand
Recently, national NHS waiting lists have received widespread media attention. Despite being less visible due to fewer NHS standards, the impact on mental health has been just as dramatic and is forecast to continue for years. However, mental health was not mentioned in the recent announcement of £5.4bn for NHS pandemic recovery and backlog clearing.
The Royal College estimates that to tackle the mental health backlog crisis head-on, £3bn of capital investment over three years will be necessary, on top of usual budgets, to improve service capability and invest in new approaches in access, such as digital technologies and through essential research.
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Ahead of his evidence session for the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s backlog inquiry, Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "We mustn't overlook mental health when tackling the NHS backlog. The pandemic has been catastrophic for mental health, and its devastating impact will be with us for years, but we shouldn't let it wipe out years of progress.”
“We need the right resources and decisive action on the long-term challenges to help stretched services that are struggling to meet demand. This means building new mental health hospitals, transforming our outdated infrastructure and training more specialist doctors to provide high-quality care. But this is about more than just the NHS, public health and the prevention of illness must be a top priority as well."