NHS mental health crisis helplines receive three million calls during the pandemic

Mental health crisis lines, which were fast-tracked due to the pandemic, have received a surge of calls during an “incredibly testing time”.

12/07/21

NHS mental health crisis helplines receive three million calls during the pandemic

Mental health phonelines run by the NHS have answered around three million calls during the pandemic.

The NHS says most of the callers were able to receive treatment over the phone or referred to a face-to-face assessment, and fewer than 2% of the calls have resulted in an A&E attendance or a so-called ‘blue light response’ from an ambulance or the police.

The mental health crisis helplines were fast-tracked to open a year ago to ensure support could be provided during the pandemic. The lines were rolled out four years earlier than planned, with nationwide coverage reached in May 2020, having originally been scheduled to go live by 2023/24 under the NHS Long Term Plan.

Claire Murdoch, National Director for Mental Health at the NHS said the crisis lines have been fast-tracked because of how important they would be in the NHS’ toolkit to support people in crisis during the pandemic.

““I continue to be humbled by the work and commitment of colleagues in mental health services all over the country. They made huge changes in normally impossible timeframes, in the most collective and supportive spirit,” Murdoch said.

The helplines have been set up by the 54 mental health trusts across England and some have now been running for over a year, with three million calls between May 2020 and May this year.


Tim Kendall, National Clinical Director for Mental Health, said the lines have helped to alleviate distress, support people in crisis and save lives.

“It is so important that when people are in crisis they can phone and talk to a mental health professional pretty much immediately.”

The NHS says its ambition is for these lines is to ensure that by 2024 they are connected to NHS 111. This will mean there is one easy to remember national 3-digit number that anyone can dial to access specialist mental health support from the health service.

Currently, details of which local helpline to call can be found on a service finder on the NHS website by typing in a postcode or hometown in the same way you would search for a local GP. For information on how to get urgent mental health assistance visit www.nhs.uk/urgentmentalhealth

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive at Mind, praised the work of the helplines during difficult times, but warned that a range of treatments must continue to be offered to prevent people from reaching a crisis point with their mental health.

“We know that many more people have experienced mental health crisis since the start of the pandemic, including some with no previous experience of mental health problems. This incredibly testing time has particularly impacted the mental health of certain groups including young people, people of colour and those living in deprivation.

“It is good to see the NHS speeding up its plans to ensure that when people reach this point, the right help is available quickly, across the country. We want to continue to see the NHS offering a range of treatment to people with mental health problems, including face to face appointments, as well as support early on, so that fewer people experience the distress of reaching crisis point.”

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