Mental health services received a record 4.3 million referrals during 2021, research has argued, illustrating the ongoing intense pressure on NHS mental health services during the pandemic.
Analysis of NHS Digital data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has suggested there were 3.3 million referrals to adult services and 1.025 million referrals of under-18s in England between January and December 2021.
When the omicron variant of Covid-19 arrived in December, a record one million people were receiving specialist treatment for conditions including addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, the college added.
While the NHS was working hard to respond to the unprecedented demand for mental health support, 1.4 million people were nevertheless still waiting for treatment, the college said.
This plan needed to include funding to expand services, train more psychiatrists and replace “crumbling” mental health facilities across the country, the college said.
Royal College of Psychiatrists president Dr Adrian James said: “The warning of the long tail of mental ill health caused by the pandemic has not been heeded. Many thousands of people will be left waiting far too long for the treatment they need unless the government wakes-up to the crisis that is engulfing the country.
“Staff are working flat-out to give their patients the support they need but the lack of resources and lack of staff mean it’s becoming an impossible situation to manage,” he added.
Despite this, the college highlighted that 1.8 million mental health consultations had been delivered in December alone.
Of these, 424,963 children and young people (aged 0 to 18 years) were in contact with mental health services in December 2021 compared with 367,403 in December 2019 (or a 15.7% increase).
A total of 642,303 adults (aged 19 to 64 years) were in contact with mental health services in the same month compared with 612,222 in December 2019 (a 4.9% increase).
Hundreds of adults were being sent far from home for treatment because of a lack of beds in their area, a practice that would be “completely unacceptable” in physical health services and therefore needed urgently to be addressed in mental health, Dr James added.