NHS Confed Conference Briefing: Mental health in the time of COVID-19: the system response

NHS Confed Conference briefing: Mental health in the time of COVID-19: the system response

Christiana Melam, Chief Executive of The National Association of Link Workers, spoke at the virtual #NHSReset conference on the 17th June 2021, hosted by NHS Confederation.
Mental health in the time of COVID-19: the system response panelist included:

  • Sean Duggan – CEO, Mental Health Network
  • Christiana Melam- CEO, National Association of Link Workers
  • Cathy Elliott – Chair, Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dr. Emma Tiffin – NHS England and Improvement – Cambridgeshire and Peterborough STP Clinical Mental Health Lead
  • Dr. Phil Moore – Chair, NHS Clinical Commissioners Mental Health Commissioners Network
  • Wes Baker – Director of Strategic Analytics, Economic and Population Health Management – Mersey NHS Foundation Trust

The speakers held discussions relating to the impact of the pandemic on mental health, pressures on the NHS, learning, and response for the recovery.

Christiana spoke of the importance of mental health support that is non-clinical and making access to non-clinical mental health support available to all.

With figures indicating that referrals for mental health services will rise by 20% in the next two years, Christiana encouraged NHS Trusts to look for sustainable, realistic, and holistic non-clinical mental health support for communities. Why should people need to be at a crisis point before they can access support? She stressed the correlation between a lack of infrastructure of support around the person in recovery resulting in avoidable high-intensity usage of acute services. The role of Social Prescribing Link Workers is proactive and can help prevent the looming mental health crisis. According to her, clinical and non-clinical mental health pathways need to be synchronised and coordinated to reduce health inequalities.

As a proponent of innovative thinking, Christiana recommended a shift away from patient dependency to patient empowerment. She acknowledged the significant clinical workforce shortages and stressed that increasing the number of Social Prescribing Link Workers could help address the gaps in service provision, improve quality of life and provide cost savings to the NHS.

Her 7 recommendations for NHS Trusts and Integrated Care Systems included:

  1. Data on demand for mental health in primary care and the community needs to be collected to aid effective planning.
  2. Prepare proactively for mental health implications and consequences of the pandemic. Ensure access to Social Prescribing Link Workers in every Mental Health Trust.
  3. Create the infrastructure to facilitate non-clinical pathways for dealing with mental health
  4. Reduce inequalities by ensuring that clinical and non-clinical mental health pathways are linked
  5. Prepare to deal with the expected rise in mental health referrals by increasing mental health provision within the community to accommodate the surge.
  6. Improve patient autonomy, choice, and empowerment by ensuring they have access to non-clinical mental health pathways
  7. Develop and enhance genuine co-production, collaboration, and cooperation for a truly holistic healthcare offering. It requires seeing VCSE as equal partners.

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There is an ever-increasing evidence base for the success of social prescribing and its impact on reducing social inequality. More and more NHS and statutory bodies are embracing social prescribing and committing resources to it, that is why Christiana believes that those who are passionate about social change should join the social prescribing movement.
Not only will they be able to champion social causes, but they will be able to channel their energy and talent into achieving better health outcomes for others.