Getting ready for a busy autumn
30 September, 2021
Although the UK’s weather wasn’t quite as expected this summer, I do hope you all managed to get some well-needed rest. I’ve recently come back from a two-week break where I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my family. It was good to have some down time from both my clinical and College work before what I know will be a busy autumn. I eased myself back into College life with a trip to Chelsea Flower Show last week, where I met with prize winner David Domoney to talk about promoting good mental health, and the benefits of gardening to wellbeing and recovery.
Worryingly, this summer we saw the dramatic and heartbreaking events unfold in Afghanistan. Our thoughts go out to the people of Afghanistan, and we hope that a peaceful solution is found quickly. The College is working hard to raise awareness in government of the threat this poses to mental health, and I encourage you all to look at my blog post posted on the College website in August to read more about our work.
We also know that the pandemic is not over yet and we still need to take precautions to keep ourselves and our patients safe. Many around the world continue to suffer huge losses from COVID-19 and deserve a global response.
Ensuring mental health services aren’t forgotten in the upcoming government spending review
The College continues to be very busy and is now looking towards its priorities for the rest of the year and, specifically, how we can help ensure that mental health services are supported with the right resources.
We know that the unprecedented impact of the pandemic will wipe out years of hard-won progress in mental health unless there is sustained investment. This month we warned that demand has surged during the pandemic, highlighting that nearly 1.5m people were in contact with mental health services in June 2021, which is 12.4% higher than the same time last year.
I also had the opportunity to highlight these challenges when I gave evidence at the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee last week. I showed that we mustn't overlook mental health when tackling the NHS backlog.
We recently had the announcement that the NHS in England will get an extra £5.4bn over the next six months to respond to COVID-19 and tackle the backlog caused by the pandemic. Despite the commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan, services were already struggling to cope with demand, even pre-COVID-19, so we must ensure that mental health is not sidelined during the allocation of the funds.
Last week, the College held an event with mental health trust Medical Directors across England. This was a great opportunity to hear views from across the country about the challenges they are facing. During my keynote speech I outlined how the College is also working hard on its submission to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. We’ll be calling for investment in the mental health estate, in our workforce, in prevention, and ensuring the current crisis is mitigated and services are future-proofed.
We need the right resources and decisive action to meet the long-term challenges, and to help stretched services that are often understaffed and struggling to meet demand. But this is about more than just the NHS, public health and the prevention of illness must be a top priority as well.
The conclusions of the 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review will be announced in an autumn budget on 27 October.
Children and Young People’s mental health roundtable
During the summer, I was pleased to chair a roundtable convened by the College - including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, NHSE/I, HEE and the Mental Health Medical Directors Forum - to discuss how best to address the ongoing concern about the number and acuity of children and young people (CYP) presenting with mental ill health in emergency departments, and subsequently being admitted to general paediatric wards.
This was a fruitful discussion that focused on ensuring the best possible care for CYP with mental health needs. There was recognition that while the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan will improve things in the longer term, action is needed now to improve the integration of physical and mental health services, along with social care, to ensure children and young people receive the support they need, wherever they present to care. We agreed on a number of specific follow up actions, and the College will also be calling for the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to include sufficient resources for CYP mental health services.
NHSE/I have also established a programme of work looking into the issue more closely, which the College is supporting. Amongst other things, they will be looking at ensuring the paediatric workforce is trained and supported in caring for CYP presenting to hospital with acute mental health needs and sharing best practice on the integration of physical and mental health services.
Let's get digital
I also had the exciting opportunity to take part in a free members webinar this month that showcased the new NHSX Mental Health Digital Playbook. The power of digital interventions to enhance and improve patient experience is very well known, and this has been accelerated by the pandemic. However, the pandemic has also highlighted issues such as digital exclusion, something that I’ve raised with the Chief Medical Officer.
The webinar explored the role and benefits of digital technology in delivering better mental health pathways and shows how the Mental Health Digital Playbook can help. Please do take a look at this useful resource.
Advocating for progress in perinatal mental health services
The College has published its own incredibly useful resource this month: Perinatal Mental Health Services: Recommendations for the provision of services for childbearing women. We know that the period during pregnancy and a child’s first year of life can be a time when parents are vulnerable to mental health issues.
The College has already undertaken a significant amount of work to ensure that there are effective, evidence-based perinatal mental health services in place to meet the needs of parents. However, this new College report provides an opportunity to build on this progress and sets out best practice principles, guidance to services and workforce recommendations. I encourage you all to take a look at this important piece of work.
This blog post was included in the September 2021 eNewsletter.