Mental health phonelines run by the NHS have answered around 3 million calls during the pandemic.
The dedicated 24/7 NHS mental health crisis helplines were fast tracked and opened a year ago so everyone could get the urgent care they need without going to A&E.
Most of the callers are treated on the phone or 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.
They have been rolled out four years earlier than planned, with 100 per cent countrywide coverage reached in May 2020. They were originally planned to go live by 2023/24 under the Long Term Plan, but were fast-tracked to ensure support could be provided during the pandemic.
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. The lines are also open to professionals such as police and paramedics who may come across people experiencing mental ill health.
Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health said: “These crisis lines have been fast-tracked because we knew how important they would be in our arsenal of ways we could support people in crisis during the pandemic.
“The NHS has worked hard to care for 400,000 COVID patients requiring hospital treatment and keep essential services going through successive waves alongside delivering the world-beating NHS vaccination programme.
“All our mental health services for both adults and children are still available, with many offering more flexible options such as video and phone consultations to improve safety for patients and staff alike. If you need support with your mental health, you can still access existing services or speak to your GP about your needs.
“I continue to be humbled by the work and commitment of colleagues in mental health services all over the country. They made huge changes in normally impossible timeframes, in the most collective and supportive spirit.”
The helplines have been set up by the 54 mental health trusts across England and some have now been running for over a year.
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.”
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 in the same way you would search for a local GP or pharmacist. For information on how to get urgent mental health assistance visit nhs.uk/urgentmentalhealth
This is another example of how the NHS has stepped up to ensure that everyone who needs urgent care can continue to receive it in the safest way possible.
Until now, many people didn’t know where to turn in a mental health crisis, and most parts of the country didn’t have accessible helplines.
As a result, many people had no choice but to go to A&E or dial 999 if they needed urgent help even if this wasn’t the best option for their circumstances.
This was already an issue before coronavirus, and the NHS was working to address this by rolling out helplines across the country as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
This included a target to set up helplines for adults by March 2021 and for children and young people by 2024. The new helplines are now open to people of all ages.
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.”
With the additional challenge of coronavirus affecting people’s mental health as well as concerns about the risk of infection in NHS premises, trusts were asked to rapidly accelerate their plans to set up helplines.
Now that the whole country is covered, patients can directly access appropriate help without having to go through other emergency pathways.