Ruth Cadbury MP
House of Commons
Dear Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP,
I’m writing to follow up on my question to you in the House of Commons on the 5th May regarding the need for additional funding for mental health services to address Covid-related PTSD; not only for our NHS and key workers but for all those who has been emotionally impacted by the coronavirus.
I was reassured that you acknowledged the importance of mental health funding in response to my question and I’m writing to urge you to take further action and steps on this issue. My overriding concern is that even though the infection and death rate may be starting to decline, the acute impact of serious mental health conditions especially PTSD will increase, and will take time to decline.
NHS, social care and other frontline key workers are specifically at risk; working long hours while being separated from friends and family, seeing too many patients die, often being the only person with someone at their end, and being worried for their own health and life, are all significant stress factors.
I know the Government and NHS England and hospitals such as West Middlesex and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust have already worked to offer free mental health support for NHS staff.
I would be interested to know if the Government have looked at expanding these programs beyond the NHS workforce?
Additionally this could be then included for the public at large; bereavement is bad enough at any time, but we know that without proper goodbyes, the grieving process takes much longer and more traumatic. In addition to PTSD, there is the inevitable increase in other mental illnesses; stress and depression that usually goes alongside financial stress, and the heightened anxiety for all, but particularly children, that this pandemic brings.
While I know the Government have committed to increasing funding levels, this commitment was made before the outbreak of the coronavirus. Is the funding adequate to meet the increased need, which will be ongoing over future months and even years?
On the specific issue of funding, the first barrier is the ongoing shortage in the mental health workforce- with the BMA finding that the mental healthcare workforce has had little growth since 2009 despite the huge increase in demand.
What plans does the Government have to increase mental health staffing levels to deal with any increase in need as a result of covid-19?
Additionally as local authorities play a key role in providing mental health it is crucial that they receive support; Many local authorities such as Hounslow have faced continuous cuts in funding and it’s vital they receive additional support to provide early intervention services in the community and in schools and youth services.
I do feel it’s vital that the Government better understands the impact of covid-19 on our mental health, including the onset of conditions such as PTSD. Professor Ed Bullmore and other academics have written in the Lancet Psychiatry journal about the importance of focusing on the mental health impact of covid-19 and have called for real-time monitoring of mental health issues- including among healthcare professionals.
What plans do the Government to monitor, assess and analyse the continued mental health impact upon both NHS staff and indeed other frontline key workers?
While it’s important the Government monitor and further understand the mental health impact of Covid-19 it’s equally key that it uses the depth of talents both across the world and here in the UK.
I was also pleased to read reports that the ex-military staff working for the charity Help for Heroes have drafted guidance and support to help NHS workers working at the NHS Nightingale.
Have the Department of Health worked further with the Ministry of Defence or the Department for International Development to draw on experiences learnt from previous international operations where frontline health staff have required support for mental health issues such as PTSD?
Once concern I have is that people who require mental health support might not seek it. Whether they’re NHS staff, care or key workers or young people who’ve missed school; it’s vital that the Government do everything possible to make sure people can access care.
What steps have the Department of Health taken along with NHS England to work with workplace unions, employers and other similar organisations to ensure that individuals can easily access mental health support both in and outside of the work environment?
I very much hope that as we begin to move out of the lockdown that the Government focus acutely on the immediate, and long-term mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.