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More than a million people waiting for community mental health care

More than a million people waiting for community mental health care
By Jess Hacker
10 February 2023

Around 1.2 million people are currently waiting for community-based NHS mental health services as of June 2022, the National Audit Office (NAO) has estimated.

And a further 8 million people are expected to have mental health needs but are not in contact with NHS mental health services as of 2021.

The NAO has now warned that demand for mental health services will continue to ‘significantly outstrip provision’, piling pressures onto staff and patients trying to access services.

But the introduction of ICSs stands as an opportunity to properly join up community-based services, it said in its new report (9 February) into the recovery of mental health services in England.

Currently, the NHS has struggled to improve these services due to insufficient space to house staff, a lack of joint commissioning with local authorities, and strains on GP capacity.

According to the NAO’s survey of 29 ICBs, 22 agreed that they were able to take a more strategic approach to planning and provision of these services than their CCG predecessors.

However, only four agreed they had the capacity, resources and staff to do so.

The NAO report also identified:

  • A 44% increase in referrals to services from 4.4 million in 2016/17 to 6.4 million in 2021/22
  • 26% of 17 to 19 year olds are estimated to have a probable mental disorder in 2022, up from 10% in 2017.

But the NHS mental health workforce has only grown by 22% – or 24,000 – in the five years to 2021/22, with 17,000 staff (12%) leaving the workforce in the same year, up from 13,000 (9%) a year earlier, the NAO said.

As a result, staff shortages remain the major constraint to improving and expanding services, it suggested.

The lack of a workforce plan has made it harder for the local NHS to coordinate efforts to recruit and train staff, it said, urging the NHS to more ‘carefully manage the shift’ in the workforce to more junior and non-clinical roles.

Earlier this week, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that reforms introducing ICSs would fail to improve patient care unless the Government tackles core crises facing the health service, including by delivering a workforce plan.

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