Average 25 people a day attend Belfast A&E with mental health and emotional distress issues

  • By Eden Wilson and James McNaney

On average, 25 people a day in 2023 are presenting at Emergency Departments in Belfast experiencing emotional distress or mental health problems.

Exclusive figures obtained by UTV News show that so far this year there have been 6,580 attendances at EDs in Belfast for these issues.

The figures cover the period from January 2023 to September 2023, and deal with the EDs at the Mater and Royal Victoria Hospitals.

The numbers of people presenting with these issues range in the period from a low of 641 in January, to a high of 835 people in August 2023.

The figures cover the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and indicate the scale of the challenge facing emergency care with patients experiencing this type of distress.

Dr Petra Corr, Director of Mental Health, Learning Disability and Community Wellbeing at the Northern Trust, said emergency departments can be a "difficult environment" for patients with these types of conditions.

"It's a very busy environment. And if someone has a level of emotional distress or feels very vulnerable that can be a very difficult place to be.

"There has been investment in recent years in the development of mental health liaison services across acute hospitals in Northern Ireland.

"We're pleased that across many of their hospitals, that if an individual does present with mental health needs, and has their physical healthcare needs checked within that ED, that they're able then to meet with a practioner who has specialist mental health expertise, and who can assess and provide treatment for that individual.

"However the physical environment and the busyness of our EDs is such that it can be very, very challenging for all those individuals in those EDs."

Dr Corr emphasised that mental health patients can legitimately present at EDs, particularly if they have physical health needs connected to their mental health issues.

"It is important for us to say that is a legitimate place for people who have mental health needs to go," Dr Corr added.

"But just to remind people that there are other pathways through their GPs, in particular through their enhanced primary care teams who now have, in many places, multi-disciplinary teams to support individuals with mental health needs."

In a statement, the Department of Health said: "The Mental Health Strategy 2021-31 contains a number of actions which are designed to improve support, and provide the right support at the right time, to help people cope with mental illnesses and ensure individuals have equitable access to mental health services.

"This year’s annual delivery plan includes a number of actions aimed at alleviating current pressures in mental health services while also enabling continuing longer-term improvement in provision. However the current financial constraints facing the department mean we are unable to do everything that we would like at this stage.

"A policy for regional mental health crisis services for Northern Ireland, published in August 2021, seeks to provide a regional approach. It is expected to lead to better patient outcomes, as well as a reduction in pressures on Emergency Departments, emergency services and mental health services, all of which are currently under extreme pressure."

The complete figures for attendances in the Belfast Trust area are as follows;

  • January 2023 - 641

  • February 2023 - 682

  • March 2023 - 780

  • April 2023 - 698

  • May 2023 - 758

  • June 2023 - 662

  • July 2023 - 795

  • August 2023 - 835

  • Septemeber - 737

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