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Northern ICSs should commission more services to tackle mental health crisis


By Jess Hacker
26 July 2022

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Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) in the north of England should commission more condition management and prevention services that promote wellbeing amid ‘significantly worse’ mental health outcomes, a major report has suggested.

Led by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA), the review revealed people in the north experienced disproportionately poorer mental health outcomes than those in the rest of England during the pandemic.

Between April 2020 and September 2021, people living in the North of England experienced a 2% decrease in mental health compared with a 1.3% decrease in the rest of England.

The authors estimated that worsening mental health in the north during the same period cost the UK around £2bn in lost economic productivity.

They recommended ICSs ‘commission more health promotion, condition management and prevention services’ that ‘promote the health and wellbeing of the workforce’ in the north.

This stands as the latest illustration of the post-pandemic mental health crisis, with recent analysis revealing that 2021 saw a record-breaking 4.3 million referrals made for mental health.

According to the new report, under 35s in the north were more likely than any other age group to have developed a psychiatric disorder over the course of the pandemic, with an increase of 2.5 percentage points between November 2019 and September 2021.

In the rest of England, there was a reduction in the number of people under 35 developing a psychiatric disorder of 1.26 percentage points.

The authors also found that:

  • There was a 12% increase in the number of anti-depressants prescribed during the pandemic in the north
  • Women from ethnic minorities in the north had the worst mental health scores in the country throughout the pandemic
  • Mental health fell equally in the north and the rest of the country during the pandemic (5% decrease) but recovered far slower in the north than in the rest of the country.

They recommended community public health budgets be safeguarded so that action to relieve acute NHS backlogs ‘does not undermine efforts to tackle the root causes of ill-health and boost health resilience’.

Hannah Davies, health inequalities lead at the NHSA, said: ‘Increased deprivation in the North of England has added to a decline in mental health in the North of England over the course of the pandemic.’

She added: ‘To reverse these outcomes immediate action should be taken to provide funds to mental health suppliers proportionate to the need in those areas and measure to reduce deprivation – particularly as the cost of living crisis tightens its grip further on the most vulnerable.’

A recent survey, led by our sister title Pulse, found that two-thirds of GPs are providing specialist mental health support beyond their competence due to pressures on the NHS.

A think tank also claimed the NHS’ structure is ‘misaligned’ with its broader ambition to tackle health inequality, with its ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ making local drivers of inequality ‘harder to act on’.

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