Extra help for people suffering mental health problems in wake of pandemic among plans by health chiefs

NHS bosses in Northumberland are looking at enhanced mental health provision in the wake of the ‘difficult circumstances created’ during the coronavirus lockdown.

By Ben O'Connell
Saturday, 16th May 2020, 6:00 am
File picture from Pixabay
File picture from Pixabay

This is one of three key areas of focus over the next six to eight weeks, as NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) looks to make progress on bringing back some ‘normal’ services for patients.

The other two action points are further support for care homes and re-establishing routine referrals by GPs onto hospitals and specialists, according to a report tabled for next week’s meeting of the CCG’s governing body.

The document explains: ‘Given that there is a sense that the NHS is coping with the COVID-19 response, has spare capacity and most importantly that patients may not be accessing and receiving the treatment they need, NHSEI (NHS England and NHS Improvement) is now asking for planning to begin on the next phase of the COVID-19 response.’

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However, there is no suggestion that this is going to be business as usual, as it ‘should be acknowledged that the NHS’s ability to return services to ‘normal’ when the virus is still present in the population is severely hindered.

‘For example, the ability to bring back elective surgery at previous activity levels is not possible due to the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) that would be required.

‘Additionally, wards will need to be reconfigured across the NHS to support social distancing therefore reducing the available bed base.’

Therefore, the CCG, which buys and commissions the county’s healthcare, wants to focus on making progress in three key areas over the next two months.

During the coronavirus crisis so far, referrals to secondary care have been restricted to urgent cases, but discussions have been taking place with the area’s hospital trusts ‘to understand how routine referrals can be enabled with appropriate phasing’.

On mental health, the report states: ‘Demand for mental health services is expected to increase, both in the form of the exacerbation of existing cases and the presentation of new cases, given the difficult circumstances created for the population created by the lock-down conditions that have been imposed.’

Therefore, plans to bolster existing NHS provision with third-sector services and social prescribing are being explored, while ‘clear referral options and communication’ will be needed ‘to prevent services being overwhelmed’.

Finally, on care homes, the report notes that facilities in Northumberland ‘have played a significant part in the care of residents’ and the whole health and care system ‘will continue to wrap support round them’.

It continues: ‘Access to PPE and testing both remain ongoing challenges and will be an important enabler or disabler of effective care delivery over the coming weeks and months.

‘It is fair to say that the care-home sector has been offered a myriad of enhanced care and support options from a wide variety of providers and regulators and there is a need for streamlining and pacing of these.’

The report is clear that the focus has to be on this next phase for now – without the coronavirus emergency response being lost – given the uncertainty about the longer term.

It concludes: ‘The long-term effects of COVID-19 are going to be wide-reaching and Northumberland’s planning needs to be agile and responsive, as we do not have enough certainty to be able to plan in detail for the long-term at this stage.’

The governing body will meet remotely on Wednesday, May 20, but it will not be available for public viewing.

However, members of the public are invited to submit any questions on agenda items by email to Melody Price – [email protected] – by Monday, May 18. The agenda papers can be found here – https://tinyurl.com/y7kobo37

Responses will be shared with the individual who asked the question within seven working days and recorded as part of the approved minutes.

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