24th Oct, 2020

Covid-19 pandemic could lead to a mental health crisis, warns BMA

THE MENTAL health impact of the pandemic could lead to a post-Covid-19 crisis says doctors’ union the BMA.

It says urgent support is needed for services to cope with a potential influx in demand.

A new BMA report outlines key recommendations for the government to achieve parity with physical health services across funding, access, workforce and prevention.

With mental health services already badly under-funded and under-resourced say the BMA, the report warns the impact of social isolation during the pandemic and those whose pre-existing care has been disrupted, alongside the longer-term economic downturn, could create a perfect storm.

Doctors are concerned many patients already suffering with severe mental health problems were struggling to access support and could see their conditions worsen. They also fear the negative impact of social isolation on mental health, particularly within vulnerable groups such as the elderly.

Similarly, frontline workers are presenting with symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

A recent BMA survey of doctors found an increasing number of doctors (45 per cent) said they were experiencing stress and, exhaustion and burnout.

Among the key recommendations outlined in the report to deal with post-Covid-19 mental health care demand and to ensure patients get the vital care they need, the BMA is calling for the government to:

* Double mental health spending over the period of the NHS Long-Term Plan to be able to address years of historic underinvestment and to ensure urgent funding is delivered to cope with anticipated future demand so patients get the care they need.

* Ensure access to services are restored as quickly as possible. It is vital that patients with pre-existing mental health conditions, some of whom are extremely vulnerable and prone to their condition worsening, and those who may have developed poor mental health during the pandemic, can get the care they need as a matter of urgency.

* Develop a cross-government strategy focused on improving public mental health. In the wake of the pandemic, focusing in particular on those more vulnerable groups who are likely to be at greater risk of experiencing the negative effects of a crisis.

* Guarantee the recruitment and retention of mental health staff as priority for the NHS.

* Ensure health and wellbeing support for all healthcare staff is accessible and sustained for the long-term.

BMA mental health policy lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said: “Covid-19 has meant a sudden and stark change in the way people live their lives but as we return to some semblance of normality, we are faced with the longer-term impact this pandemic will have on mental health.

“Our mental health services were already on the backfoot – under resourced and under-funded – which makes the prospect of coping with the potential avalanche in demand extremely concerning.

“There are very real concerns about the impact of the disruption of care of those patients with pre-existing mental health conditions, some acute, and for the more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, who will be negatively impacted by the social isolation. They may even be at higher risk of suicide.

“The impact of the pandemic on the population’s mental health could also serve to widen existing inequalities if the right attention is not given to the more vulnerable groups of the population.

“The BMA has for a long time been calling for mental health services to be given funding and resources equal to that of physical health provision and this pandemic has ushered in an urgency and necessity that cannot be ignored.

“Rather than hurtling toward a post-Covid mental health crisis, this pandemic must be used as an opportunity to evaluate the current provision of mental health services. This means once and for all giving mental health services the long-overdue parity they have desperately needed to ensure we move forward for the better.”

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