NHS in London expands mental health crisis services this winter

The NHS in London is set to boost mental health support for people in crisis to ease demand and pressure on emergency services this winter, as part of extensive winter plans already underway.

Mental health professionals will work within ambulance control centres and accompany paramedics on emergency call outs, to treat people of all ages who are having a mental health crisis at the scene.

In addition, NHS England is investing £2m to support mental health schemes in London, with funding going towards increasing the number of mental health professionals able to support Londoners in crisis and dedicated assessment units as an alternative to attending an emergency department. This will help to provide a better patient experience to people experiencing crisis, as well as alleviating pressure in A&Es.

In 2021, there were 12.9% more emergency department attendances in London for people with a mental health diagnosis than in 2019. Including mental health services during emergency call outs will help identify those who need support and ensure they are cared for in the right way.

A £500 million investment has also been allocated to help discharges in the capital, to fund initiatives such as increasing supported housing placements which are a key blocker of discharge and further strengthening the social care network to reduce pressures in inpatient mental health settings.

South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust’s community rehabilitation service works with inpatients in rehabilitation wards in partnership with hospitals across south London to support them to be ready for discharge. Their multi-disciplinary team of care coordinators and psychiatrists work with inpatients with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, to support them as they prepare to join the community after being cared for in hospital, and continue patients’ recovery in the community. They look at many aspects of what their lives will be like, beyond ensuring they have a place to live, ongoing mental healthcare in the community and access to medication.

Martin Machray, Senior Responsible Officer for Mental Health in London, said:

“The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on people’s mental health and the NHS in London is continuing to improve access to mental health services, at earlier stages and adapt essential crisis services.

“Reaching people suffering a mental health crisis as quick as possible is critical and getting them access to a mental health professional either in person or over the phone will help in making sure they receive the type of care best suited to their needs.

“We are already facing a challenging start to winter with pressures across the health services and increasing demands in London’s emergency departments so early interventions from mental health professionals in emergency cases will help in ensuring people are supported in the right way and alleviate pressures in A&E.

“If you are struggling with your mental health it is important you come forward for help from the NHS – you can refer yourself online for talking therapies, contact your GP or if you are in a crisis, you can call your local 24/7 helpline.”

In central London admissions to A&E will be reduced over winter with a new mental health crisis centre that opened last week. London Ambulance Service and the police will be able to take people in crisis direct to the centre for specialist support ran by Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL).

Lee Byers, Associate Service Director of Urgent Care at CNWL described a shift last week at the new unit at St Charles’s Hospital, North Kensington.

The trained nurse of 18 years explained how one patient arrived from A&E and said although they had not slept for 72 hours, the new relaxed environment and reclining chairs meant he could sleep for one to two hours. The patient was given five one-to-one sessions with staff and was referred to the Hillingdon Crisis House.

The patient who always attends A&E when in mental health crisis said, if ever in crisis again they would come to St Charles crisis centre instead because: “You are seen straight away, have a full assessment which is not rushed, and you have the freedom to go out for fresh air with the support of staff.”