Anyone experiencing a mental health emergency will benefit from more tailored emergency care and support in the community through specialised mental health ambulances, more crisis services and improved health-based places of safety, the Government announced today.
Announced by Mental Health Minister, Maria Caulfield, £150 million of investment up to April 2025 will support people experiencing – or at risk of experiencing – mental health crises to receive care and support in more appropriate settings outside of A&E, helping to ease pressures facing the NHS.
Patients presenting with mental health problems are twice as likely to spend 12 hours or more in emergency departments than other patients. While some of these patients will be in A&E for urgent medical care, we know that often they would be better treated elsewhere.
Improved mental health infrastructure
The Government believes that the funding will allow for the procurement of up to 100 new mental health ambulances, which will take specialist staff directly to patients to deliver support on scene or transfer them to the most appropriate place for care.
It will also fund 150 new projects centred on supporting the provision of mental health crisis response and urgent mental health care. The new projects include over 30 schemes providing crisis cafes, crisis houses and other similar safe spaces, as well as over 20 new or improved health-based places of safety which provide a safe space for people detained by the police. Improvements to NHS 111 and crisis phone lines will also be rolled out.
Commenting on the announcement, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said:
“People in mental health crisis deserve compassionate care in a safe and appropriate setting. Too often, they end up in A&E when they should be receiving specialist treatment elsewhere.
“This important funding will make sure they get the help they need, while easing pressures on emergency departments and freeing up staff time – which is a huge priority for the government this winter.”
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay said:
“With the health systems facing huge challenges this winter from the rise in flu, ongoing COVID-19 cases and the impact of the pandemic, we need to ensure people are still receiving the right specialist care.
“These dedicated facilities will ensure patients experiencing a mental health crisis receive the care they need in an appropriate way, while freeing up staff availability including within A&E departments.
“These schemes – along with the up to 100 new mental health ambulances – will give patients across the country greater access to high-quality, tailored support when needed the most.”
Providing and improving a range of spaces
The new ambulances have been designed to provide a calmer environment, avoiding the bright yellow interior of traditional NHS ambulances and using simple NHS service logos, dimmable lighting and space for family and friends to accompany the patient during assessment. These are backed by £7 million in government funding.
The remaining £143 million of capital funding, announced in the 2021 Spending Review, will go towards the 150 new projects. It will be invested in providing and improving a range of spaces to support people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, mental health crises. This includes new mental health urgent assessment and care centres and the redesign and refurbishment of existing mental health suites and facilities including in emergency departments, creating spaces outside of A&E, and the expansion of crisis lines.
Levelling up mental health services
With planned projects located across the country, the 150 schemes support the government’s commitment to level up mental health and wellbeing across the country – including some of the most deprived local authority areas in England.
Programmes will also focus on preventative measures, including improvement of sanctuary spaces, to improve mental wellbeing, and community mental health facilities that will work to help people before reaching crisis point.
Mental health funding
The Government is investing at least £2.3 billion of additional funding a year by April 2024 to expand and transform mental health services in England so that 2 million more people will be able to get the mental health support they need.
Every area now has in place 24/7 NHS open access urgent mental health helplines. The helplines are currently taking around 200,000 calls per month, with only 1 to 2% reported as being directed to 999 or A&E. In the community, NHS mental health support teams are being rolled out in schools and colleges, offering early mental health help to children and young people. The Government is on target to reach 35% of pupils by the end of this year.
This comes as the Government has committed to increase mental health spend to 8.9% of all NHS funding.
NHS Mental Health Director, Claire Murdoch, said:
“Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic the NHS is on track to deliver its Long Term Plan commitment to boost mental health spending by £2.3 billion a year, enabling around 4.5 million adults and over 700,000 young people to access mental health services.
“As well as expanding capacity to meet record demand, the NHS is transforming mental health services to help people get more appropriate care when they contact services and this investment will see specialist mental health ambulances deployed, new crisis cafes opened, and existing facilities modernised, to deliver urgent and emergency mental healthcare to more people who need it.
“So, as ever, anybody in need of help should not hesitate in contacting the NHS so they can get the care they need.”
Commenting on the plans, Head of External Affairs at YoungMinds, Olly Parker said:
“We welcome further investment in the ways young people can access support and hope that this goes some way to ensuring that there are appropriate settings for those experiencing a mental health crisis.
“Ultimately, we want to prevent young people reaching crisis in the first place and for there to be better access to early support. We therefore look forward to the government publishing its promised long-term plan for mental health, and for it to have young people at its heart.”
President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Adrian James said:
“It’s good to see the renewed commitment of £150 million government funding into mental health services. Having reached record levels of referrals in the past year, the pressures on crisis care is immense. We welcome the investment to build and improve 150 new services which will support those most in need, in some of the most deprived communities.
“It’s clear more must be done to reach people as early and as quickly as possible. The concept of tailored emergency care is positive, and we’re pleased to see the investment of 100 new specialist mental health ambulances, staffed by both physical and mental healthcare professionals.
“This will go some way in easing system pressures; however, we must remember that times are hard for everyone, with the cost-of-living crisis adding to this, demand for mental health services will continue to rise.”
Mental health services are certainly the forgotten service of the current NHS winter crisis. That is why this money allocated for specific projects is welcome.
The Government has clearly learnt that making a spending commitment on something that has no specifics within the NHS does not work. Mental health cases are rapidly increasing. Data from Vuit, policy institute Curia’s data partner shows the high levels of unmet need across the UK.
The challenge will be for the Government to demonstrate progress ahead of the next election. The money is being targeted to level up communities, but are these the communities most at need? After accusations of ‘politics’ last week with allocations of levelling up funding, the Government cannot afford to put politics first.
In mental health, the patient must come first.