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Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust warns of increase in demand for mental health support after coronavirus lockdown

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Mental health services expect to see the demand for support rise by a fifth due to the coronavirus lockdown, as patients become increasingly unwell and doctors warn of the risk of increasing suicides, it has been revealed.

The region’s mental health trust is anticipating a 20 per cent spike in need for their services, due to the effect of lockdown on mental health.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), which has previously been dubbed the worst trust in the country, says it expects to see a rise in cases in all age groups, as people emerge from lockdown in need of support.

The NSFT s anticipating a 20pc spike in need for their services, due to the effect of lockdown on mental health. (38826645)
The NSFT s anticipating a 20pc spike in need for their services, due to the effect of lockdown on mental health. (38826645)

And NSFT chiefs have warned of a potential increase in suicides – which comes as national funding for suicide prevention worked was delayed due to the pandemic.

Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer, said: “We’re now expecting 20pc additional demand on top of what we would normally expect because of Covid-19.

“People are more poorly than they would have been previously – that could be because they haven’t been able to reach for support.”

He said the rise was likely to be across all age groups, and added: “It could be a 20pc increase across the system – a system that’s already having difficulties maintaining support for people.

“Our referrals are coming in now as we would expect for this period and its very busy but what is unusual is that when people present to us they are more poorly than we’ve seen previously. People who are staying with us on wards are presenting as being quite ill.

“We’re seeing a significant demand from people who have not been known to mental health services. People are struggling to cope with lockdown.”

Mr Richardson’s comments came ahead of the trust’s board meeting, which was held remotely on Thursday, July 16.

It came after the trust was criticised for holding its previous meeting behind closed doors, where it discussed a report into a staff culture of “bullying and lack of respect”.

During the meeting, the trust’s medical director, Dr Dan Dalton, warned that a rise in suicides was likely to accompany the economic impact of the pandemic.

“There’s good reason to see that after a long period of financial crisis we do see an increase in suicides,” he said.

And ahead of the meeting, Mr Richardson said while “whether that [a rise in suicides] will be part of the 20pc I don’t know but I think we can hazard an educated guess that it probably will be and we know the areas of people who that may be”.

He said: “We know that that’s men in their forties, we know it’s particularly people who are very rural and work very remotely.”

The trust received £22,462.50 to go towards suicide prevention work in 2019, which was used to “ensure supportive discharge” for patients.

But a trust spokesman said they had no further information on 2020 suicide prevention funding.

But Mr Richardson said: “Although the funding has been delayed, it’s still a big feature for us and we’re ensuring our teams have what they need to support people when they’re at their most vulnerable.

“If you’re in a crisis we will see you. If you’re in a crisis – it’s not for someone else to tell you that you’re not. We will see anybody.

“It’s very much been part of our thinking and the work we do day in day out and our suicide prevention lead has continued to work throughout the pandemic.”

And speaking during the board meeting, Dr Dalton said the trust was monitoring instances of self-harm, which he said was useful to predict suicide rates, but said they were not seeing a rise and would continue to monitor for changes.

It comes as a coalition of UK mental health charities warned that almost 80pc of people living with mental health issues have reported that their mental health has worsened as a result of the crisis, and urged Boris Johnson to put mental health at the heart of the UK’s coronavirus recovery.

Mr Richardson said the trust aimed to meet the rise in demand by recruiting staff and working with GPs and charities. He said 179 more clinical positions had been filled, and that it was easier to recruit now the trust no longer had a rating of inadequate.

“Our ambition is not to be no longer the worst trust in the country, it’s be the best,” he said.

“It has been really challenging.”

The trust has set up a 24/7 helpline number for Norfolk and Suffolk, which received almost 5,000 calls during April and May.

• NSFT’s First Response 24/7 helpline is available to anyone living, working or visiting in Norfolk and Suffolk and can be reached on 0808 196 3494.

• The Samaritans helpline can be accessed for free on 116 123 from anywhere in the UK.