Sharp rise in number of referrals to Manchester mental health services since beginning of pandemic
Mental health charities have urged the government to act in response to the increase in referrals
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Thousands fewer people are in contact with mental health services in Manchester compared to pre-pandemic levels despite a huge increase in referrals.
An investigation by the BBC data unit and shared with ManchesterWorld shows the number of monthly referrals to mental health services in England have hit their highest point in two years.
Some clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have seen demand more than double compared to pre-pandemic levels, prompting concerns that the full impact of the crisis on the nation’s mental health has yet to be seen.
The latest figures show at least 279,995 referrals were made through 117 NHS CCGs in March 2021 - a rise of 19% compared to February 2020.
Across Greater Manchester’s 10 CCGs, there was a 42% increase in referrals between February 2020 and March 2021. The biggest increase was in the Trafford CCG area, where referrals rose by 48%.
Across England, urgent crisis care referrals - made when a patient is suffering a more serious mental health issue - are also at their highest level since January 2019.
There has also been a 17% increase in the average monthly referrals to urgent crisis care in Manchester, from 793 between April 2019 and April 2020 to 931 between May 2020 and March 2021.
The number of people in contact with adult mental health services in England - after receiving a referral - dropped by 104,955 between February and April last year when the pandemic struck.
Although these figures have improved slightly, the latest data from March 2021 still shows 66,915 fewer people in contact with services compared to February 2020.
In Manchester, 3,625 fewer people are in contact with services compared to February last year, a drop of 6%.
‘More people will be struggling because of the economic impacts that we have yet to see’
Mental health charities in England have now urged the government to act in response to the figures.
MIND’s head of health policy Geoff Heyes said: “When you see those figures reaching record levels it’s a real alarm bell for problems elsewhere in the system, where people aren’t getting support quickly enough.
“Our fear is that more people will be struggling because of the economic impacts that we have yet to see.”
SANE chief executive Marjorie Wallace added: “It is no surprise that we are seeing a jump in referrals, which could mark the start of a surge that lasts for many months, as people with severe mental ill-health who were discouraged from seeking help finally come forward.
“Yet services that were already overstretched before the pandemic may be even less able to cope with rising demand due to increasing staff absence, and with patients who are much more acutely unwell having not received early support.”
“We have to be prepared for a mental health crisis and people needing urgent treatment,” Ms Wallace said.