Covid-19 mental health demands could cost England £3bn, model shows

Increased demand for mental health services due to the coronavirus pandemic could cost English NHS trusts around £3 billion over the next three years, new analysis has found.

The analysis is drawn from an interactive open access model developed by the Strategy Unit, an independent group of expert NHS analysts. The model, released today, aims to help individual Trusts and care systems estimate the likely effect of Covid-19 on the work of their units and teams.

Mental health services presently cost the NHS £12.5 billion annually. The Strategy Unit estimates that the additional demand on mental health services in England will rise by 11% on average over each of the next three years, and by analysing assessment and referral costs for the additional demand, has costed this rise at an additional £1 billion a year.

Andy Hood, Analytics Manager at the Strategy Unit, says: “This is a huge figure, yet it doesn’t include suppressed activity in March to June 2019 – the first lockdown period. This resulted in half a million people not being referred to mental health services as they normally could have been – so capacity for assessing and managing those patients will also have to be found in the system.”

The Strategy Unit’s national model considers population groups known to be at risk, including those with existing long-term conditions, elderly people living alone, children and students. Using information from early published evidence, each group is mapped to various mental health conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to substance abuse and grief. With national datasets for each condition such as rate of successful treatments and referral to other services, the Strategy Unit’s model can broadly predict the range of demand over the next 36 months, whether entirely new patients or increased support needs for existing patients, by mental health service type.

For more specific information, Trusts can upload their own population figures and service models to the system to get customised results.

The Strategy Unit’s national model derives from initial analysis it carried out for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust in the summer. The analysis predicted that Mersey Care was facing a 31% rise over the next two years in referrals for mental health services in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, compared to pre-Covid levels.

A spokesperson for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “The modelling process that we undertook with the Strategy Unit enabled us to estimate the impact of the pandemic on our mental health services, so that we have been able to plan for and redesign those services with greater sensitivity to the people who are using them. At a time when mental health providers in all sectors are facing intense pressure on their resources, sophisticated modelling of this kind is a game-changer.”

The Strategy Unit’s national model includes an easy-to-use interactive tool, as well as the operating code and model. All materials are on the Strategy Unit’s website and are being issued as open access.

Andy Hood added: “We are sharing this information nationally now so that organisations can start to have those important discussions about how to handle the coming upswing in services over the next few years.”