The number of users of mental health services has increased by 16% this year, data shows

The number of people accessing NHS mental health services in England has increased year on year, although the total number of mental health nurses in hospital and community services has fallen, the data shows.

Data released by NHS Digital today reveals 16% more people accessed secondary NHS-funded mental health, learning disabilities and autism services in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21 .

In 2021-2022, 3,256,695 people accessed services, compared to 2,803,244 in 2020-21 and 2,878,636 in 2019-2020.

This means that 5.8% of people in the country were known to have been in contact with services, compared to 5% of people the previous year.

This increase has been accompanied by a significant increase in the number of under 18s accessing services. Last year, 992,647 under 18s accessed mental health services, a year-on-year increase of 29.2%.

It comes even as DHSC data released today shows the number of mental health nurses in NHS community and hospital services has again fallen month on month.

In August this year, 38,188 mental health nurses worked in the NHS, of which 19,900 worked in the community – a drop since October last year, when the overall NHS nursing workforce peaked at 38,897 .

However, the number of mental health nurses in the community has increased. In August 2020, there were only 18,519 mental health nurses in the community, meaning the workforce has now increased by 1,381 in two years.

Yet the dramatic increase in demand from under-18s has raised fears that young people may face unusually long waits for treatment.

Sharon White, CEO of the Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA), said today’s report was ‘reflecting what school nurses are seeing daily in terms of the rapid and continued increase in the number of children and young people in need of mental health services’.

Ms White said these were ‘significant and worrying numbers’, which could mean children are facing ‘exponentially long waits’.

NHS data showed that 18% of 16-year-olds, 16% of 17-year-olds and 22% of 16-year-old girls had been in contact with mental health services.

Ms White said: “The mental health needs of children and young people (CYP) had been steadily increasing for at least a decade before covid; it has also been affected by the pandemic. The ongoing disinvestment in school nursing means that our visibility and accessibility is tragically diminishing at a time when it is clear that our CYP needs us much more’

Claire Murdoch, NHS director of mental health, said: ‘As the pandemic has inevitably taken a heavy toll on the mental health of young people, the NHS has accelerated its plans to transform and expand mental health services for children and young people. .

“This includes the deployment of mental health support teams to 4,700 schools covering 2.4 million students a year ahead of schedule, 24/7 crisis lines that provide support to hundreds of thousands of children and adults every month, and providing intensive home treatment for children and young people, so if you are worried about your mental health, please seek treatment.

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