The Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SPNHSFT) has seen a sharp rise in calls to its mental health crisis line, with over 17,000 calls received in September 2023 alone. This represents a significant increase from the previous year, highlighting the growing demand for mental health support in the region. As a result of this surge in demand, more individuals are seeking assistance at A&E departments for mental health conditions.
Recognizing the challenges posed by this situation, the trust is working closely with emergency and voluntary services to enhance crisis support. However, the increase in the number of people referred to A&E for mental health issues has resulted in longer waiting times for patients requiring access to mental health beds. Between 2019 and 2023, there has been a 15% rise in such referrals, further exacerbating the strain on resources.
The presence of mental health patients in A&E departments presents a complex challenge for all parties involved. Not only is this environment unsuitable for their care, but it also diverts time and resources away from individuals with urgent clinical needs. Hospital managers are faced with the difficult task of finding appropriate beds for patients who require mental health inpatient care but do not need to be admitted to a general hospital. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of these beds, and the existing ones are often operating at full capacity.
To address this issue, SPNHSFT has implemented a “Blue Light Triage” service. This service involves trained mental health professionals working alongside police and ambulance workers to provide support to individuals in mental health crises, with the aim of reducing the number of hospital admissions. While this initiative is a step in the right direction, there is still a pressing need for additional resources to meet the growing demand for mental health services in the region.
Dr. Peter Aitken, the chief medical officer for the trust, acknowledges the urgency of the situation, particularly in an accident and emergency setting. The senior leadership within the NHS is actively engaged in ongoing discussions to find immediate solutions and ensure that patients receive the appropriate care in a timely manner. Although progress is being made, it is important to recognize that addressing these challenges will take time.
Data from NHS Digital shows that the prevalence of mental illness in Sussex is slightly higher than the national average, with 1.12% of patients diagnosed with a mental health condition compared to the national average of 1.05% in England. This highlights the need for continued investment and support in mental health services in the region.
In conclusion, the increasing demand for mental health crisis services in Sussex has placed a significant burden on A&E departments and mental health bed availability. However, efforts are underway to improve crisis support and find alternative solutions to ensure that patients receive the appropriate care they require in a timely manner. The collaboration between SPNHSFT, emergency services, and the voluntary sector is crucial in addressing these challenges and providing the necessary support for individuals experiencing mental health crises.