A quarter of young people were turned away from NHS Mental Health services in 2019, due to “failing to meet certain criteria” that made them eligible for treatment.
The report from the Educational policy institute found that 133,000 young people were denied or turned away from treatment, having failed to meet with eligibility criteria. It also found further issues with Mental Health services across the United Kingdom, including an average waiting time of two months and a lack of transparency on services available.
The report comes amid growing concerns on the capacity of NHS mental health services to meet the growing demands for mental health services, following a pattern of funding reductions and growing demands for comprehensive and readily available mental health support.
NHS spokespeople have responded by calling the report “misleading”, instead pointing to a 14 per cent increase in the number of patients seen by mental health services. Whilst considered by many as a step in the right direction, critics have noted that cuts in real-term funding and growing strains on the services pose a serious risk to mental health services nationwide and the patients that rely on them.
The next health crisis?
The EPI’s findings on mental health services highlight a series of concerning problems that threatens to become a crisis within the NHS.
According to Mind, a national mental health charity, approximately one in four people in the United Kingdom will experience mental health problems in the United Kingdom in their lifetime, with one in six adults experiencing a weekly recurring mental health issue. This is especially prevalent amongst young people: Kantar findings show that people aged 15-24 are 40 per cent more likely to experience anxiety or stress issues than the national average, with people aged 25-34 almost a quarter more likely than average.
Mental health is unique from other health issues in many ways, encompassing conditions ranging from anxiety to eating disorders. It is not “one-size-fits-all”. However, that one in four people in the United Kingdom experience some form of mental health issue in their lifetime is suggestive of a national health crisis, requiring strong treatment, resources and response.
Government promises fall short
This is not to state, however, that the potential mental health crisis has fallen on deaf ears. In their manifesto, the Conservative party pledged to reinvigorate mental health services, seeking to “ensure patients have easier access to the support they need”. This pledge included the development of twelve new NHS schemes, the details of which were not disclosed in their manifesto, as well as investment of £975 million in additional funding.
A promise of choice in services and provisions undoubtedly sounds appealing, if it were to lead to unparalleled mental health services that benefit the people of the United Kingdom. However, Conservative policies, despite claims of the “end of austerity”, have seen an annual average reduction of 4 per cent for local health authorities’ mental health services since 2015. This has resulted in a reduction in overall funding available for mental health provision, totalling an estimated £850 million in real terms.
Therefore, Conservative pledges to invest close to £1 billion in mental health services nationwide would, if all funds were utilised effectively, bring the quality of service and funding in Mental health services back to comparable 2014 levels. Indeed, reports by the Care Quality Commission highlight that, since 2014, patient satisfaction has fallen annually – with 2019 being the lowest level of patient satisfaction. Indeed, particular dissatisfaction was found not only in accessibility to services, but in the time and consideration given to patients and the scope of resources and treatment available to them.
This is to assume that such pledges will be enacted. As seen in the December election, Conservative pledges on healthcare carried scepticism on their validity; from mistruths on investment to perhaps laughable promises on nursing increases. Whether grandiose promises on investing in Mental health services are kept, and how close to the promised £975 million the true spending figure is, remains to be seen.
Mental Health services, much like mental health itself, cannot be solved through a single solution. Whilst the government has pledged to invest in what is currently a restricted, opaque and financially savaged mental health service, particular areas of concern are raised on the effectiveness of simply throwing money into a service without consideration for its efficacy, areas of requirement and utilisation.
A national issue requiring immediate attention
Whilst awareness has been growing surrounding the prevalence and seriousness of mental health in society, both in the UK and internationally, there is still a serious divide between the demand for mental health support and the capacity of services to deliver this. In any other case, a quarter of patients requesting support being turned away would be a national scandal.
Yet, despite growing awareness on the need for mental health services that are fit for purpose, national understanding of mental health remains somewhat divided. Though some recognise the scope and severity of the issue, a growing sect view the near-crisis in national mental health as falsified, exaggerated or even attention seeking. Such a sect of denial and derision was typified by Piers Morgan, the TV presenter and journalist, who recently described mental health campaigner Matt Haig as epitomising “the self-obsessed woe-is-me victimhood mindset” of mental health discourse. Such derision is not limited to Britain, with congresswoman Ilhan Omar subjected to abuse after her admissions surrounding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In any other area of healthcare debate, derision of those who campaign for advocacy and support on a health issue would be met with shock and disgust. A commentator lambasting those with a life-altering illness or disability would likely lose their position. Since mental health conditions are, under the 2010 equalities act, recognised as a disability, the trend of doubting the validity of those who open up on their own struggles is concerning.
Mental Health: An impending healthcare crisis?
Crisis may be a word used liberally in modern politics, but in the United Kingdom a quarter of the population will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. In the current state of Mental Health services nationwide, a quarter of young people requesting treatment and assistance are turned away for “not being ill enough”, even when experiencing patterns of self-harm or life altering conditions. The government’s pledges for addressing the failings of their own services, through investment that will largely compensate for their own cuts to healthcare, do little to rectify falling standards of patient confidence and may not even be enacted. And even in the public discussion, a concerning proportion of people deride individuals with mental health issues as championing their own perceived victimhood. Without proper addressal of the failing services available to people with mental health issues, as well as the detoxification of public conversation, the growing inability of the NHS and Mental Health services to meet with demand threatens to grow into a new health crisis nationwide.