Mental health services in England need to radically change to be fit for the future and respond to the aftermath of the pandemic, according to a new report by the Centre for Mental Health.

We welcome these calls which closely mirror our longstanding campaign recommendations, and we urge the UK government to urgently expand choice and access to psychological therapies and counselling for patients and healthcare workers.

Now or never, commissioned by the NHS Confederation's Mental Health Network, examines the priorities for mental health services in the run up to this year's Comprehensive Spending Review.

Fresh solutions

It argues that mental health services need fresh solutions to long-running structural problems that have become more acute during the pandemic. While more money is needed, it must be invested where it can make the biggest difference, and come with big changes in how services are planned and delivered.

The report highlights the cost of NHS staff sickness absence, and calls for 1% of this cost to be invested in supporting the wellbeing of its workforce. This is vital to respond to the stress, burnout and trauma faced by health and care workers during COVID-19.

It states that UK Government and NHS England need to rethink long-held assumptions and ways of working in mental health to respond to the challenges of today and the coming years.

It argues for a greater share of investment in enhancing mental health and preventing mental illness and for long waiting lists to be tackled urgently. And it calls for more integrated care and clearer outcome measures and accountability within the NHS.

The Now or never report concludes that more money alone will not enable mental health services to meet rising demand. While the NHS mental health workforce is growing, staff shortages are still significant and remain the biggest barrier to expanding services, although it suggests that allowing more staff to work flexibly as well as making better use of digital technology may help to close this gap.

Recommendations from the report reflect our longstanding campaign priorities, including the integration of mental health care with parity alongside physical health care, as well as the importance of investing in psychological therapies and counselling as highly effective forms of preventative treatment.

Invest in counselling services

Steve Mulligan, our Four Nations Lead, who managed our Covid 19 campaign, said: “The past 18 months have shone a light on the serious and longstanding mental health inequalities which exist within so many communities across England.

"We welcome this important report as further evidence of need to urgently invest in preventative support, including counselling and psychotherapy.

“If the Prime Minister is serious about ‘building back better from the pandemic’ he needs to use this year’s comprehensive spending review to invest properly in counselling services, ensuring they're accessible, sustainable and fit for the future.

"The mental health impact of Covid 19 will be with us for years to come and BACP will continue to make a robust case to government to secure a suitable commitment for the counselling professions.”

Centre for Mental Health chief economist and report author Nick O'Shea said: “Mental health care needs to change if it is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Our Mental Health Act remains a direct descendant of nineteenth-century predecessors.

"We still see people being placed in long-stay hospitals and nursing homes far from home for mental health treatment. And the segregation of body and mind in health care still reduces the life expectancy of people with a mental illness by more than 15 years.”

Read the full Now or never report.