NHS mental health crisis helplines receive 3m calls since being fast-tracked

Date published: 15 July 2021

Mental health phonelines run by the NHS have answered around three million calls during the pandemic since being fast-tracked a year ago.

The dedicated 24/7 NHS mental health crisis helplines were fast-tracked four years earlier than planned to ensure support could be provided during the pandemic.

The lines are staffed by mental health professionals who can refer people to local urgent, acute and routine mental health services. This may include phone and video consultations, as well as urgent face-to-face assessments where necessary.

Most callers are able to receive treatment over the phone or can be referred to a face to face assessment and fewer than 2% of the calls have resulted in an A&E attendance or a blue light response from ambulance or police.

The helplines have been set up by the 54 mental health trusts across England and some have now been running for over a year, with three million calls between May 2020 and May this year.

At the start of the pandemic Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) set up a 24/7, all-ages helpline within a week, staffed by experienced mental health practitioners from a range of services, many of whom were shielding themselves but supported to work from home.

In their first ten days, over 1,500 calls were received, and during the height of the pandemic the call handlers received almost 550 calls per day.

Since 20 March 2020, they have handled almost 30,000 calls and since its expansion in May, have supported the Greater Manchester Clinical Assessment Service (CAS) and NHS 111 service by streaming their calls and supporting the caller to a solution which helps relieve pressure on other services, including ambulance call outs and attendances at A&E.

It has undoubtedly prevented many service users and families from experiencing a crisis in isolation with no support. The main outcomes have resulted in callers being supported with crisis intervention to prevent self-harm, including suicide prevention and safety planning with the service user so they continue to be cared for at home.

One caller, who would like to remain anonymous, said: “I turned to the helpline in the middle of the night when I was feeling very low. I would like to express my gratitude to the helpline team for helping me reach my birthday. I would have not got this far without your support.”

The service has been able to intervene at a critical point in the crisis pathway and divert people, who do not need urgent physical health care or require assessment under the Mental Health Act, from attending A&E departments and potentially being admitted to an acute mental health bed.

This resulted in reduced pressure on the local urgent care systems across Greater Manchester and the provision of a more timely and appropriate care pathway for people in mental health distress.

Details of how to find your local helpline are included at the bottom of this article.

Tim Kendall, national clinical director for mental health said: “It is so important that when people are in crisis they can phone and talk to a mental health professional pretty much immediately.

“I am sure this will help alleviate distress, support people in crisis and save lives.

“This is such an important step for all of us.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive at Mind, said: "We know that many more people have experienced mental health crisis since the start of the pandemic, including some with no previous experience of mental health problems. This incredibly testing time has particularly impacted the mental health of certain groups including young people, people of colour and those living in deprivation.

"It is good to see the NHS speeding up its plans to ensure that when people reach this point, the right help is available quickly, across the country. We want to continue to see the NHS offering a range of treatment to people with mental health problems, including face to face appointments, as well as support early on, so that fewer people experience the distress of reaching crisis point."

Patient experience has been improved by not having to visit A&E or call on emergency services to access support when they are in a mental health crisis, by providing quicker access to the right pathway at the right time. The crisis lines have helped to avoid a high number of people abandoning calls to emergency services and waiting for a clinical call back

The NHS hopes to have the lines connected to NHS 111 by 2024, so anyone can dial the national number to access specialist mental health support from the health service.

The new helplines are now open to people of all ages.

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call their local helpline and friends and family members can call on behalf of someone they’re worried about. Parents can call for their children, and support is available for all ages. You will not be wasting anyone's time.

The lines are also open to professionals such as police and paramedics who may come across people experiencing mental ill health.

24/7 urgent mental health helplines available across the country

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all in different ways, and for many people it has had a negative impact on our mental health.

If this includes you, the NHS is there for you and now provides crisis support all day every day via its urgent mental health helplines.

Details of which local helpline to call can be found on an easy to use service finder on the NHS website – simply by typing in a postcode or hometown. You must also input your age (or the age of the person you are calling for) as some helplines are specifically for children and young people. Information provided will not be used to identify or contact you.

For information on how to get urgent mental health assistance visit nhs.uk/urgentmentalhealth.

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