Increased demand for mental health services in Sunderland as hospitals deal with Covid pressures

Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Health officials in Sunderland have warned of the pressures mental health services are under due to Covid, with referrals for some groups of people 50% higher than before the pandemic.

Sunderland City Council Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee have been informed that mental health referrals are "an awful lot higher" than last year, with young people in particularly impacted.

David Chandler, chief officer at NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, noted while the "good news" is people are being referred for help, it shows an increasing number of young people needing support.

Mr Chandler added that Sunderland CCG currently have 129 people awaiting assessment, which is a decrease on previous years: "In terms of access times they are so much better than they were in 2019/20, but there are still people on the waiting list.

"That's 100 odd we'd rather not have, but the numbers were 400/500 this time two years ago."

He added they generally work on an 18-week target for seeing patients, which he admitted is "still not ideal".

It was also noted they have worked to establish a single point of access with mental health support providers, to help avoid patients being "bounced between two services".

Philip Foster, managing director at All Together Better Alliance, which brings together providers and commissioning organisations in Sunderland, warned the pandemic is having an impact on mental health staffing levels due to those needing to isolate.

He said: "We're managing that demand on mental health services."

"People traditionally think of the pressures on the acute physical healthcare element, there are huge pressures on the mental health services as well, so we're trying to do all we can."

He also praised the work of voluntary services for their "vital part" in helping to support residents with issues such as mental health concerns during the pandemic.