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Lib Dems lead cross party call for mental health plan in response to COVID-19 crisis

April 25, 2020 1:59 PM
By Rugby Lib Dems

Mental Health Awareness WeekLiberal Democrats are at the forefront of cross party calls for a long-term, cross-departmental mental health plan in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Citing the "acute" impact of the pandemic on mental health, a cross party group of Parliamentarians warn that over half of adults admit the coronavirus crisis has impacted their wellbeing.

The group, led by Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care spokesperson Munira Wilson, are calling for the Government to set up:

  • An expert-led mental health taskforce to advise on the best methods to deal with the mental health impact of coronavirus.
  • A cross-departmental mental health plan to find ways to improve mental wellbeing for people affected by COVID-19, including tailored plans for vulnerable groups such as frontline staff and bereaved families.
  • A focus on developing 'PPE for the Mind', so that all key workers on the frontlines have immediate access to mental health support, both during and in the aftermath of this crisis.

These demands follow previous cross party calls for the Government to increase funding for mental health charities and services, and to better signpost mental health support services to households, especially the elderly.

Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care Spokesperson said:

"Thousands of frontline NHS and care staff, not to mention other key workers, are enduring deeply traumatic events through this ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Thousands more are dealing with bereavement. Millions are already struggling with loneliness, or may be under significant stress due to rapid changes in personal circumstances, from losing their job to losing their home.

"The scale of the mental health impact left in the wake of this virus must not be underestimated. The Government needs to plan now to meet future demand when it comes to mental health support. That's why we're calling on Ministers to set up an expert-led task force to focus on this issue, and to develop a long-term, cross-departmental plan for mental health support given the chaos created by COVID-19.

"We're also calling for the Government to equip all frontline workers with 'PPE for the mind' by ensuring that they have immediate access to mental health support services, both now and in the future. Failure to do so would completely let down those who are making sacrifices every day to help us through this terrible pandemic."

Full text of the letter to Matt Hancock.

Dear Secretary of State,

The Covid-19 pandemic will have long-term implications on all aspects of life and one of the areas where this will be most acutely felt is mental health. We, the undersigned, urge the government to consider measures that will ensure people's mental wellbeing will be prioritised both during this outbreak and afterwards.

We are already seeing the consequences on mental health as the indicators published on 16 April presented a significant proportion of adults, 53.1%, saying that coronavirus was affecting their wellbeing. A number of leading experts, including The Lancet Psychiatry and the charity Mind are concerned on current and future wellbeing. People are already encountering difficulties in accessing support, without which some may resort to alcohol, drugs or gambling. Effective tools and monitoring will play an important role in providing treatment.

We were pleased to see the accessible advice in the Every Mind Matters campaign, launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which will provide many with tools and resources they need to manage their mental health. We urge the government to go further and, as in my last letter, conduct more publicity by circulating leaflets to households and reaching out to older demographics. We are also concerned that in the long run, NHS 111, the Samaritans and other mental health charities and organisations will be overwhelmed with people needing their services. We are requesting that the government increase their funding and publish a long-term strategy that will demonstrate what services those who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic can access when the social distancing measures eventually abate.

Staying at home and social distancing are essential for protecting the NHS and saving lives, but we cannot avoid the fact that the stress and emotional fallout of losing loved ones, fearing for the future and loneliness may precipitate a mental health crisis. Therefore, the government must start developing a long-term strategy to deal with the effects of coronavirus. We are asking for:

1. The Government to develop a cross-departmental mental health plan to determine methods to improve mental wellbeing for those affected by the outbreak. This must take into account tailored provision as different vulnerable groups will experience the pandemic differently and respond to varied treatment and support. Many will have a significant change in circumstances including homelessness and unemployment.

2. A new mental health taskforce comprised of experts to advise on and determine methods to help deal with the effects of coronavirus

3. Develop "PPE for the Mind" to ensure all key workers on the front lines of this crisis can have immediate access to adequate support for their wellbeing during and after this crisis.

The pandemic will pass but we must be confident in the government that the lasting effects of coronavirus will be considered and dealt with effectively to prevent any more undue pain and suffering. We know the aftermath will be difficult as we grieve for those we have lost and face the tangible impact of economic uncertainty. Therefore, it is critically important that the government prepare now for trauma, which is already becoming apparent, across society.

Yours sincerely,

Munira Wilson MP (Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care Spokesperson)

A PDF copy of the letter with the full list of signatories is available here.