Doctors’ union says urgent support is needed for services to cope with influx of demand
In a paper published today, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to a mental health crisis in the UK unless extra support is provided.
Drawing upon a history of poor funding and a lack of resources, the paper makes a number of key recommendations for the government to achieve what is described as long-overdue parity with physical health services.
Focusing on funding, access, workforce and prevention, the paper highlights that social isolation as well as the disruption of pre-existing care is likely to be impacted by longer-term economic downturn.
The BMA said it believes that doctors are concerned that many patients struggling with severe mental health problems are likely to see their conditions worsen.
Adding to this, a recent BMA survey found that an increasing number of doctors (45%) were experiencing stress, exhaustion and burnout.
BMA mental health policy lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said: "Covid-19 has meant a sudden and stark change in the way people live their lives but as we return to some semblance of normality, we are faced with the longer-term impact this pandemic will have on mental health.
"Our mental health services were already on the backfoot - under resourced and under-funded - which makes the prospect of coping with the potential avalanche in demand extremely concerning.
"There are very real concerns about the impact of the disruption of care of those patients with pre-existing mental health conditions, some acute, and for the more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, who will be negatively impacted by the social isolation. They may even be at higher risk of suicide.
"The impact of the pandemic on the population's mental health could also serve to widen existing inequalities if the right attention is not given to the more vulnerable groups of the population."
Among its key recommendations, the BMA has urged the government to double mental health spending in its NHS Long-Term Plan; ensure access to services are restored as quickly as possible; develop a cross-governmental strategy focused on improving public mental health; guarantee the recruitment and retention of mental health staff as a priority for the NHS and ensure that health and wellbeing support for all healthcare staff is accessible and sustained in the long term.
Dr Andrew Molodynski added: "BMA has for a long time been calling for mental health services to be given funding and resources equal to that of physical health provision and this pandemic has ushered in an urgency and necessity that cannot be ignored.
"Rather than hurtling toward a post-Covid mental health crisis, this pandemic must be used as an opportunity to evaluate the current provision of mental health services. This means once and for all giving mental health services the long-overdue parity they have desperately needed to ensure we move forward for the better."
According to Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health & Protection, businesses will also need to step in to support staff in light of the pandemic, which is expected to cause mental-ill health for half a million more people, the Centre for Mental Health has predicted.
"Combined with those that already had existing mental health conditions before the pandemic - potentially exacerbated by lockdown - businesses must support all staff," he said. "In a time marred by uncertainty and concern, mental health support can literally be a lifeline to those struggling."
Towergate highlighted how specialist support, early intervention, resilience training and counselling services and therapies such as CBT - all available as part of health and protection insurance offerings - can be introduced to help staff at this time.
Hill said: "Mental health has been rightfully rising up the agenda for businesses for some time now and with the unprecedented situation we face resulting from the pandemic, more has to be done to support staff during this unique time.
"Employees that haven't experienced mental health concerns before may well be at risk, and those with existing conditions may be in greater danger. It's crucial that businesses investigate what resources are available to support all people with their mental health. By speaking with specialists - reviewing existing support packages, uncovering propositions that may now be included in policies as a result of the pandemic and learning about new help available - employers can provide crucial support to those struggling."
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