Thousands of people in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire and Luton referred to mental health services

Rise in referrals due to Coronavirus pandemic resulting in backlog and increase in demand for services

By Andrew Dowdeswell
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 5:34 pm

Tens of thousands of people were referred to mental health services in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes over nine months last year, new figures show.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists says the coronavirus pandemic is the "biggest hit" to England's mental health in generations and has urged the Government to address growing referral lists across the country.

NHS Digital figures show around 62,805 people in the NHS Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCG area were referred for a mental health appointment in the nine months to the end of 2021.

Coronavirus pandemic is the "biggest hit" to England's mental health in generations

Nationally, 4.3 million people were referred for mental health care last year, up from 3.7 million in 2020 and the highest number since records began.

The number of people in contact with mental health services across the country has also increased.

At the end of last year, 1.35 million people were working with mental health services, up from 1.26 million at the end of 2020.

Approximately 26,255 were using mental health services in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes at the end of 2021.

In April 2021, NHS Bedfordshire CCG, NHS Luton CCG and NHS Milton Keynes CCG merged to form NHS Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCG, meaning comparison to previous periods is not available.

NHS England says the national rise in mental health referrals has resulted in a backlog and increase in demand for services.

In a recent report, it estimated 1.4 million people eligible for mental health care across England were yet to receive it, with a further 8 million deemed to benefit from accessing help if barriers preventing people from accessing care were reduced.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said government silence on the issue "continues to be of grave concern" and called for a fully-funded plan to aid mental health services to deal with the backlog.

"The warning of the long tail of mental ill-health caused by the pandemic has not been heeded," said Dr James.

"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."

The Department for Health and Social Care said an extra £2.3 billion per year will be invested in mental health services by 2023-24, on top of £500million apportioned to tackle the pandemic's impact on mental health.

The number of children accessing mental health services has also increased, with more than 1 million under-18s across England in contact with health professionals for the first time at the end of 2021.

Roughly 12,510 of them were in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes.

Mental health charity SANE warned the Government it is "sleepwalking" into a crisis due to the rising number of children requiring support nationally.

"The Government has promised a national conversation on a new mental health strategy later this year, but we need urgent action or our failures to act now may leave us with a lost generation," said Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said it will launch a "national conversation" about mental health before publishing a long-term Mental Health Plan later this year.