More people will be locked out of mental health services if no new money is invested in the next two years, experts have warned.
Sean Duggan, CEO of the mental health network at the NHS Confederation, which represents the health and care system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said a lack of investment in the long term combined with a potential increase in demand due to the cost of living crisis would cause pressure unsustainable in the system.
He said: “If you don’t do anything beyond where we are now, you’ll get more exclusions, more difficult access, more pressure. [and] yes, waiting lists [will rise]. We’ve started from such a low baseline and all the pressures that we know are there on the services right now.
“That pressure goes back to primary care, it doesn’t help acute services, it doesn’t help community services or urgent and emergency care.”
Funding for the NHS announced in the autumn statement it would allow mental health services to continue with the current plan, Duggan said, but this would end in 2024. He called for long-term, sustainable investment.
NHS figures show a 30% increase in the number of under 18s in England in contact with mental health, learning disabilities and autism services, going from 763,888 in the year prior to the 2019-20 pandemic to 992,647 in 2021-22. Across all ages, the number of people in contact with these services increased by almost a fifth to 3.26 million during the same period.
Mental health charity Mind said with demand for support already “greatly” exceeding capacity, even more people would be left out if no new investment were released.
Mind policy and campaigns chief Paul Spencer said that while the government had made welcome interventions, they represented “sort of a sticky patch” rather than necessary “blanket reform”.
“We know that 1.8 million people are on waiting lists for mental health support, with an additional number 8 million without being able to get any kind of help not at all,” Spencer said. “Demand for support already far exceeds available capacity, so we echo Sean’s warning that even more people will be left out if new investment is not released.”
James Harris, associate director of campaigns and communications for the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said the current plan and funding for mental health falls short of the scale of the challenge facing the country.
He added: “The nation’s mental health has been hit by the double whammy of a global pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis, meaning more people than ever are turning to a health care system that is struggling to keep up with demand. ”.
a department of Health and the Social Care spokesperson said: “We have committed to increasing investment in NHS mental health services by £2.3bn a year by 2024, meaning an additional 2 million people will be able to access health support funded by the NHS, and we aim to grow the mental health workforce by a further 27,000 by now as well.
“In addition, we are investing £150m over the three years to 2024-25 to bolster National Health Service mental health services, better support people in crisis outside of A&E, and improve patient safety in mental health units.”