Government ministers said they hoped that spending £150 million on new facilities to support urgent mental health care would help relieve pressure on accident and emergency departments in England.
The money will be spent on 150 projects over the next 2 years, such as specialist mental health ambulances, urgent assessment and care centres, and the expansion of crisis help lines.
Patients with mental health problems are twice as likely to spend 12 hours or more in hospital emergency departments than other patients. Announcing the funding, Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said: "People in mental health crisis deserve compassionate care in a safe and appropriate setting. Too often, they end up in A&E when they should be receiving specialist treatment elsewhere. He said the money would "make sure they get the help they need, while easing pressures on emergency departments and freeing up staff time".
Faster access to care was included in one of Mr Sunak's five priority areas he wanted to address during 2023.
£7 Million for Ambulances with Calmer Environments
The latest funding included £7 million to procure up to 100 mental health ambulances. Crewed by specialist staff, these would provide a "calmer environment", with dimmable lighting and space for family and friends to accompany a patient during assessment. They would be capable of delivering support in the community or used to transfer patients to an appropriate place for care.
The remaining £143 million would be available for:
- More than 30 schemes providing safe spaces for people with mental health needs, such as places of safety and 'crisis cafes'
- Improvements to NHS 111
- A roll out of specialist crisis phone lines
England's Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: "With the health systems facing huge challenges this winter from the rise in 'flu, ongoing COVID-19 cases, and the impact of the pandemic, we need to ensure people are still receiving the right specialist care. These dedicated facilities will ensure patients experiencing a mental health crisis receive the care they need in an appropriate way, while freeing up staff availability including within A&E departments.
"These schemes – along with the up to 100 new mental health ambulances – will give patients across the country greater access to high-quality, tailored support when needed the most."
Pressure on Mental Health Services Predicted to Rise
The Government said it was investing at least £2.3 billion of additional funding a year by April 2024 for mental health services in England as part of a commitment to increase mental health provision to 8.92% of all NHS funding.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomed the announcement. Its president, Dr Adrian James, said: "Having reached record levels of referrals in the past year, the pressures on crisis care is immense." He added: "It’s clear more must be done to reach people as early and as quickly as possible. The concept of tailored emergency care is positive, and we're pleased to see the investment of 100 new specialist mental health ambulances, staffed by both physical and mental healthcare professionals.
"This will go some way in easing system pressures. However, we must remember that times are hard for everyone, [and that] with the cost-of-living crisis adding to this, demand for mental health services will continue to rise."
The charity YoungMinds also welcomed the new funding. Olly Park, head of external affairs said: "Ultimately, we want to prevent young people reaching crisis in the first place and for there to be better access to early support. We therefore look forward to the government publishing its promised long-term plan for mental health, and for it to have young people at its heart."