The increase in the number of people with mental health problems , resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and from the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions by lockdowns and self-isolation, has been anticipated since early in the pandemic (Millions in England face ‘second pandemic’ of mental health issues, 21 February). What has been lacking has been a clear strategy for addressing these overwhelming problems.
One difficulty may be that the services required are not biomedical but psychological and involve social services. Neither senior nor NHS local management have begun properly to integrate these services into their planning. As the December 2021 update to the NHS psychological professions workforce plan for England commented, it “shone a spotlight on the psychological professions specifically because of the massive growth required in those occupations and because the unique contribution of these diverse roles is not widely understood”.
Training additional staff will take years. Four steps could be taken that will make a rapid difference. First, appoint a chief psychological professions officer at national level. Second, require service commissioners to identify a consultant clinical psychologist to provide them with advice concerning psychological disorders, therapies and service organisation. Third, require NHS trusts to maximise the effectiveness of their psychological services by ensuring that they are led by a consultant clinical psychologist and all providers of psychological therapies are adequately supervised by clinical psychologists. And last, minimise the loss of qualified psychological therapists from the NHS by providing funded career pathways.
Director, Association of Clinical Psychologists UK