The recent announcement by the Metropolitan Police that from September 2023 they will cease responding to mental health calls underscores the pressing need for a radical change in our mental health care delivery. As a society, we must recalibrate our approach to ensure care is delivered on a 'right-first-time' basis. This means ensuring individuals have immediate access to the kind of mental health care that works for them, tailored to their unique circumstances.
Of critical importance in this discussion is the 'missing middle'. These are individuals whose mental health needs go beyond low-level anxiety or depression, yet they aren't currently considered unwell enough to warrant crisis services. They find themselves in a precarious limbo, grappling with challenges that often go unnoticed until they escalate into crises.
Without the Metropolitan Police as a first line of response in emergencies, health and social care services are having to make imminent and significant changes, at a time when staff are already under significant pressure, and when mental health services are already stretched. It is therefore paramount that we reach this 'missing middle' in order to limit the amount of additional strain being put on health and social care services. People in need must have access to high-quality, suitable mental health support that works for them, in a timeframe that means they are not sat on a waiting list, potentially spiralling.
Our campaign, Direct Access to Counselling, speaks directly to this urgency. We propose several strategies to make mental health care more accessible, impactful, and efficient:
First, addressing the current recruitment deficit is paramount. The NHS is in dire need of more qualified mental health professionals. Without an adequate workforce, our ambition for a more robust mental health care system remains but a pipe dream. There is a robust and qualified workforce of over 60,000 counsellors and psychotherapists on Accredited Registers across the UK, already working to support our nation's mental health - we ask that the Government and commissioners realise this and work to include these experienced practitioners as part of their workforce discussions.
Second, the prevalence of waiting lists is concerning. Time can often mean the difference between prevention and crisis in mental health situations. We must, therefore, strive to eliminate these waiting lists, making mental health services more immediately accessible.
Third, we need to address the rate of non-reliable improvement. Too many individuals are referred to services that don't work for them, resulting in stagnation or even a deterioration of their mental health. A focus on patient-specific, effective care is crucial. An expansion of the range of therapeutic modalities offered through the NHS will also contribute towards a more inclusive and effective system. Our Direct Access to Counselling campaign supports this, and promotes choice of both practitioner and modality (way of working). This shared responsibility fosters a sense of control and commitment in patients, making them more active and engaged in their care, and leading to better outcomes. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work for mental health care; the more diverse our toolbox, the better equipped we are to help a broader range of people.
Widening access to mental health support is another core tenet of our campaign. Access to quality mental health care should not be a privilege reserved for a select few. We must create systems that cater to everyone, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status. Currently, the points we have mentioned above are only available to those who are able to access private mental health care; we believe that in order to address the mental health crisis in this country, this level of care should be the minimum standard available to everyone in the UK. This is achievable through referrals directly to practitioners on Accredited Registers.
These steps won't just facilitate early intervention: they will also have far-reaching implications on the overall functioning of the NHS. The burden of related health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, gastric issues, and others, often exacerbated by unmanaged mental health issues, will significantly reduce.
In the face of impending changes within the Metropolitan Police, the need for a robust, inclusive, and effective mental health care system is more critical than ever. The Metropolitan Police's decision can be seen as a catalyst for a more proactive, effective approach to mental health care in the UK, and we have the workforce ready and waiting to support those changes.