A new report examines the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of children and young people in North West London.
Data analysed from all patients aged 25 and under across mental health services in North West London*, show that general practice has been playing an increasing role in the management of children and young people seeking mental health care. The data looks at the period from March 2015 to September 2021 including March 2020 to September 2021 to reflect the time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also finds that the number of mental health related prescriptions or mental health related events where young people saw their GP either for diagnosis, observation or because of a referral, increased threefold between 2015 and 2021. There is evidence that this trend exists across the UK and is a symptom of both an increasing need and overstretched services.
The authors of the report call for more resources to be targeted at prevention among those most at risk of developing mental ill health. They also highlight that general practice is likely to need additional support to meet increased demand. Primary care services are already facing workforce shortages while also playing an increasing role in the management and care of children and young people with mental health conditions.
"Based on our analysis and the experiences we heard from children and young people in North West London, we believe the pandemic has led to new patients seeking mental health services." Roberto Fernandez Crespo Institute of Global Health Innovation
These findings contribute to a national report as part of the Health Foundation’s Networked Data Lab, a network of advanced analytical teams. There are five hubs across the UK including the North West London lab, which is a partnership between Imperial College Health Partners, North West London Health and Care Partnership and the Institute of Global Health Innovation.
Roberto Fernandez Crespo, Analytics Fellow and report author, Institute of Global Health Innovation said: “Based on our analysis and the experiences we heard from children and young people in North West London, we believe the pandemic has led to new patients seeking mental health services.
“Given the increase in demand for mental health care, capacity should be increased so young people can receive support in a timely and safe manner.”
A disruption to mental health care
Researchers combined data from Discover, North West London’s de-identified dataset, as well as data from the Office for National Statistics to account for demographic factors relating to the young people such as age, sex, ethnicity, and geography. They then compared expected use of mental health services during the pandemic to their actual use to identify changes that could have been attributed to the pandemic.
Two age groups in particular, 5-11 and 18-21 year olds, were found to be accessing mental health services significantly less than expected, suggesting these groups could have had limited access despite their need. To tackle this, the authors suggest a review of all people in these age cohorts who have presented mental health services before.
The transition from young people’s mental health services to adult services which happens at age 18, was also seen to be affected and delayed by the pandemic.
Alongside calls for more support in general practice, the authors highlight there needs to be improvements in data collection, quality and analysis which will be crucial to inform policy decisions on where services need to expand to meet need and reduce health inequalities.
Matthew Chisambi, Associate Director of Transformation, Imperial College Health Partners and Project Lead, North West London Lab, said:
"I’ve been truly inspired by how the young people we’ve worked with have been willing to share their experiences with the aim of improving care for all." Matthew Chisambi Imperial College Health Partners
“Being part of the Networked Data Lab (NDL) has given us the opportunity to work with our local community, in this case young people, to not only identify priorities in the health and care system to investigate, but also to meaningfully engage with our population to help shape and critically inform our interpretation of the data.
“North West London has a great asset in Discover, a linked data set that is able to see a person’s interactions across different health and care settings. This gives us a much better understanding of how people actually use services rather than solely one aspect of care e.g. hospital care.
“I’ve been truly inspired by how the young people we’ve worked with have been willing to share their experiences with the aim of improving care for all.”
*Clinical Commissioning Groups included in this study are Brent, Central London, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow and West London
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