Mental health crisis awaits if urgent support is not provided

The BMA is warning that the mental health impact of the pandemic could lead to a post-coronavirus mental health crisis, unless urgent support is not provided for services.

With mental health services already badly under-funded and under-resourced, the BMA has published a new white paper detailing key recommendations for the government to achieve long-overdue parity with physical health services across funding, access, workforce and prevention.

This includes doubling mental health spending over the period of the NHS Long-Term Plan to be able to address years of historic under-investment and to ensure that urgent funding is delivered to cope with anticipated future demand so patients get the care they need.

In the paper, the doctors union warns that the impact of social isolation during the pandemic and those whose pre-existing care has been disrupted, alongside the longer-term economic downturn, could create a perfect storm.

Already, doctors are concerned that many patients already suffering with severe mental health problems are struggling to access support and could see their conditions worsen. They also fear the negative impact of social isolation on mental health, particularly within vulnerable groups such as the elderly.

At the same time, frontline workers are presenting with symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. A recent BMA survey of doctors found that an increasing number of doctors (45 per cent) said they were experiencing stress, exhaustion and burnout.

Andrew Molodynski, BMA mental health policy lead, 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.

“The 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.”