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UK health leaders call for urgent mental healthcare plan

Children and young people are likely to face longer waits for treatments to address mental health conditions and health leaders are calling for a comprehensive plan from the government to tackle the mental healthcare crisis.

The NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network wants the same level of attention to be given nationally to address the backlog facing mental health services – a situation which is being referred to by many in the sector as the ‘second pandemic’.

This call comes after the publication of the long-awaited NHS Elective Recovery Plan, which detailed how the government will address the backlog of people needing planned surgical procedures. Meanwhile, £44bn of additional funding was allocated for the NHS in the government’s Spending Review last year, including £5.9bn to tackle the elective care backlog. None of this funding, however, has been specifically allocated in the area of mental health.

The government is being urged to be more mindful of children and young people who have – or are at risk of having – mental health issues. There has been a 72% increase in children and teenagers being referred for urgent support for eating disorders over a 12-month period.

Matthew Taylor, CEO of the NHS Confederation, explained: “We are moving towards a new phase of needing to ‘live with’ coronavirus but for a worrying number of people, the virus is leaving a growing legacy of poor mental health that services are not equipped to deal with adequately at present.”

“With projections showing that 10 million people in England, including 1.5 million children and teenagers, will need new or additional support for their mental health over the next three to five years it is no wonder that health leaders have dubbed this the second pandemic. A national crisis of this scale deserves targeted and sustained attention from the government in the same way we have seen with the elective care backlog.”

According to estimates, mental health services may need an extra £1bn in 2022 and 2023 alone to keep up with rising patient demand.