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Mental health demand far outstrips capacity, BMA warns

Mental health demand far outstrips capacity, BMA warns

An analysis of the numbers of patients being seen by mental health services shows that demand is far outstripping capacity, the BMA has warned.

Since 2016, the number of children and young people in contact with mental health services since 2016 has expanded at almost four times the pace of the psychiatry workforce, figures collated by the BMA show.

The most recent figures show almost 400,000 people per month in contact with child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS) in addition to a steady rise in demand for adult mental health services with more than a million contacts a month.

Yet one in seven full-time equivalent doctor positions in psychiatry are currently unfilled, the BMA said.

The serious staff shortages means that many children, young people, and adults are simply not getting the timely care they need, the BMA added.

There are concerns that the situation is likely to worsen as the rising cost of living drives up the number of people needing treatment for their mental health.

And the analysis also found that the areas of highest economic deprivation have over double the number of people in contact with mental health services than the most affluent areas.

A Pulse survey earlier this year revealed that pressure on counselling services mean two thirds of GPs are having to provide specialist mental health support beyond their competence.

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The BMA has called on the Government to factor in inflation, and to double the funding pledge promised in April 2019 of £2.3bn per year by 2023/24 to £5.2bn.  

BMA mental health policy lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said: ‘These shameful statistics confirm that the mental health crisis in this country is spiralling out of control and is failing some of the most vulnerable in society, as workforce capacity cannot keep pace with demand.’   

He added: ‘It is incredibly concerning that we are seeing such a sharp increase in demand for child and adolescent mental health services, almost four times more than the current rate of expansion of the psychiatry workforce.

‘This system is failing our children and young people as the inability to access treatment and to intervene at a crucial early stage may risk their mental health deteriorating and consequently increase the need for longer term dependence on an already broken system.’   

The picture is similarly bleak for adult services which have also seen a steady increase in demand, he added.    

‘With a clear link between those living in areas of high economic deprivation and demand for mental health services, the current financial climate will only exacerbate the pressures on mental health if the Government do not intervene urgently with support for those worst off.’   

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Mental wellbeing is a priority for the Government and we will invest an additional £2.3 billion per year into mental wellbeing services by 2024 – giving two million more people the help they need.

‘As laid out in Our Plan for Patients, we will improve the availability of mental wellbeing support for all ages – including access to NHS talking therapies and strengthening support in schools – so that people can get the care they need, when they need it.’


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