NHS braces for increased demand for mental health support in wake of coronavirus pandemic

The country has undergone many changes as it tackles the pandemic – REUTERS/Simon Dawson More

The country has undergone many changes as it tackles the pandemic - REUTERS/Simon Dawson
The country has undergone many changes as it tackles the pandemic – REUTERS/Simon Dawson

More health staff are being trained to treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder in preparation for a potential spike in demand for mental health services after the coronavirus crisis.

Almost 3,000 trainees are expected to start courses in psychological therapies and former staff are also being asked to consider returning to frontline roles in preparation for growing numbers of people suffering from anxiety and depression and related conditions.

NHS England said it hoped to boost the number of advanced clinical practitioners, psychiatrists and mental health nurses over the next few months.

As part of the NHS People Plan this includes up to 300 peer-support workers, more than 100 responsible clinicians, 50 community-based specialist mental health pharmacists and 245 children and young people’s psychological wellbeing practitioners.

Around 2,900 trainees – which NHS England said was a record number and was understood to be an increase of around 1,000 on last year’s intake – are expected to start courses within the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, also known as talking therapy provision.

IAPT services have dealt with more than one million people in the past year across England. All of the trainees have some experience of working with people living with mental health conditions, either through a psychology degree or through working in the NHS in other roles.

The number of training places for clinical psychology and child and adolescent psychotherapy is also being expanded by a quarter.

Claire Murdoch, NHS national director for mental health, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has turned lives upside down and although talking therapy services have been available throughout, this is about making sure the NHS is ready for a potential spike in demand further down the line, which we know can happen during periods of extreme crisis.

“With more people than ever coming forward for mental health care, the health service needs more staff to support them, so if you are a former member of staff or are looking for a career where you can make a real difference, there is a role in the NHS for you.”

Professor David Clark, NHS national clinical adviser for IAPT, said the service had “transformed the treatment of adult anxiety disorder and depression since it was launched” and the model was now being used in other countries.

While the number of talking therapy appointments decreased in the early stages of the pandemic, by mid-April this had returned to pre-coronavirus levels as face-to-face care switched to phone and online, NHS England said.

Minister for Mental Health Nadine Dorries said: “The effects of the pandemic on many people’s mental health and wellbeing may be long lasting.

“The NHS, local services and charities have been there for those who need it throughout the pandemic, but now it is important we ensure our services meet any rising demand.

“NHS staff and community teams have done an excellent job in supporting people to date and the expansion of talking therapies and staff to deliver this will be vital to help those in need and bolster our mental health workforce for the future.”

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