The cost of living crisis could lead to a mental health threat “of pandemic proportions”, a royal college has warned.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has called for an urgent cash injection into NHS mental health services to match inflation.
Addressing the college’s International Congress, which took place last week, college president Dr Adrian James said that “food insecurity, fuel poverty, debt and the loneliness and isolation that come with it, are a hard reality for millions of people”.
With mental health referrals at record levels of 4.3 million last year and a backlog of 1.4 million people still waiting to start treatment, pressure on the NHS was likely to reach unprecedented levels.
Dr James added: “Much like with the pandemic, those already living with a mental illness are more likely to suffer the consequences of the looming economic downturn, which will be felt for years to come. We must be ready to offer them the specialist, high-quality care we know can make a difference.”
However, Dr James was concerned “the already tight mental health budget will have to stretch even further to keep pace with soaring inflation.”
Health and cost of living
He called for “a cash boost of £300m to match inflation and deliver the investment package promised in the NHS Long Term plan.”
Of the £2.3bn mental health investment after inflation outlined in the Long Term Plan over the five-year period until 2023-2024, only £2.05bn is set to be delivered on the latest inflation rate, the college has argued.
The extra £300m needed could be partly taken from the recently announced £1.5bn for local systems, but further funding will be necessary next year, it has calculated.
Dr James nevertheless praised healthcare staff for their efforts in clearing the pandemic mental health backlog: “NHS staff are continuing to make personal sacrifices to help their patients, having worked tirelessly for two years.”
But he added that “funding for mental health services needs to be prioritised as we’re being called upon to overcome yet another unprecedented challenge.”