Whilst the impact of COVID-19 on physical health services is quite rightly at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the pandemic will also impact on mental health services.
The vast majority of specialist, psychiatrist-led mental health provision is in the community, in clinic settings and in people’s own homes, where a significant number of people with severe mental illness are treated and supported to live safely if occasionally chaotically. These people face additional vulnerabilities in the face of the pandemic – they may struggle with self-care or with following the stringent measures around self-isolation and social distancing, they may be dependent on medication and less able to tolerate the growing queues at pharmacies, or they may have anxiety disorders or conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder which will be severely aggravated by the heightened state of anxiety which we’re all experiencing.
Mental health professionals continue to see the most unwell of these, including in very volatile situations, but services have had to rapidly review how much face-to-face contact is necessary at this point, even with access to PPE. Where individuals or teams have an established relationship with a patient, telephone contact may be enough to know how someone’s doing. Text and online communication have been used effectively in some services for a while, particularly those working with younger people. And we are finally seeing an expansion in the development and use of digital platforms for delivering talking therapies.
In fact, mental health is probably the area of healthcare least dependent on physical proximity to patients in a significant proportion of its delivery. As the quality of video calling improves, virtual appointments allow clinicians to pick up the visual signs that help them to assess people’s mental health. Online therapy delivered through typed rather than verbal communication is demonstrating its role and effectiveness. Whilst some of us are still getting used to it, we have an emerging generation of people for whom virtual communication is the norm.
Attain has significant experience across the mental health system including designing and implementing innovative delivery models, using our clinical expertise to effectively engage with staff to embed the cultural change needed for sustained improvement. Recognising that the rapid changes which have had to be made in how people with mental health problems are supported in the community will pose some short and medium term risks for this vulnerable group, we are keen to work with organisation to help deliver the right innovations and flexibilities in how services are delivered now and in the longer term.