As many as 4.3 million mental health referrals were made during 2021 – the highest number to date – according to new analysis of NHS Digital data.
Led by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the research found that 1.025 million of these referrals were for children and young people under 18.
And in December last year, services delivered 1.8 million consultations, marking an increase of 14.7% compared to the same month in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
The College also found that nearly 425,000 children were in contact with support services in the final month of 2021, up from 367,000 in December 2019.
It comes after a November NHS report – led by Claire Murdoch, the national director for mental health – estimated that 1.4 million people have been accepted or are eligible for mental health care but are yet to receive it.
The Royal College has now urged the Government to publish a mental health recovery plan to reduce waiting times.
It added that the plan must include committed funding to expanding services and training professionals in order to replace the ‘crumbling’ facilities currently in use.
Ruth Rankine, director for primary care at the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The latest statistics from NHS Digital show a record number of referrals were made to mental health services in 2021. This reflects what we’re hearing from members regarding the size of the gap between service capacity and demand.
‘There is a role for ARRS mental health practitioners to help address this demand, particularly for those people whose needs may not meet the current high threshold for accessing secondary care services. ARRS mental health practitioners can help by supporting people to prevent them reaching the point where they’re in crisis.’
This analysis stands as the latest to highlight limited access to NHS mental health services.
Last month, the NHS Race and Health Observatory found that ethnic minority patients are less likely than white British patients to be referred for some mental health support.
And a December report suggested that inadequate early intervention for children and young people’s mental health creates ‘unnecessary pressure’ across the NHS.
Meanwhile, a think tank recently 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’.