The number of people accessing NHS mental health services in England has risen year on year, even as overall numbers of mental health nurses across hospital and community services has fallen, data has shown.
Data released by NHS Digital today reveals that 16% more people accessed NHS-funded secondary mental health, learning disabilities, and autism services in 2021-2022 compared with 2020-21.
This means that 5.8% of the country were known to have been in contact with services, up from 5% of people the year before.
The increase was accompanied by significant rises in the number of under-18s accessing services. Last year, 992,647 under-18s accessed mental health services, an increase of 29.2% year on year.
In August of this year, there were 38,188 mental health nurses working in NHS, 19,900 of which work in the community – a decline since October last year, when the overall NHS nurse 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 that the workforce has now grown by 1,381 in two years.
Yet, the dramatic increase in demand from under 18s has created concerns that young people may face exceptionally long waits for treatment.
Sharon White, CEO of the Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA), said that today’s report was ‘reflective of what school nurses are seeing on a daily basis in terms of a steep and ongoing increase in the number of children and young people requiring mental health services’.
Ms White said that there these were ‘significant and worrying numbers’, which could mean children face ‘exponentially lengthy waits.’
The 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 consistently rising for at least a decade before covid; it has further been impacted 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 our CYP need us much more ‘
Claire Murdoch, NHS Mental Health Director, said: ‘While the pandemic has inevitably taken a huge toll on young people’s mental health, the NHS has accelerated its plans to transform and expand services for children and young people’s mental health.
‘This includes rolling out mental health support teams in 4,700 schools covering 2.4 million pupils a year ahead of schedule, 24/7 crisis lines which provide support to hundreds of thousands of children and adults every month, and offering intensive home treatment for children and young people, so if you are worried about your mental health, please come forward for care.’