A long-term plan to deal with mental health crises in Bedfordshire and to save lives has been accelerated because of the pandemic, a meeting heard.
The project was due to be completed in 2023, clinical director at East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) Angharad Ruttley told Central Bedfordshire Council’s (CBC) health and wellbeing board.
“Clinicians decided 24/7 crisis resolution and home treatment team services, and a 111 option to an urgent mental health crisis line running 24/7 were an absolute priority,” she explained.
“These services provide an alternative to hospital admission for Bedfordshire residents.
“The demand for this is much higher than the national position, so having 24/7 crisis services was very timely.
“We’ve observed people being more severely unwell and requiring increased clinical contact and intervention.”
As part of prevention work, ELFT is implementing the national confidential inquiry into suicide and homicide ‘ten ways to improve patient safety’ recommendations.
“For Luton and Bedfordshire, two areas to highlight are the development of the crisis care pathway and the zero inpatient suicide plan,” she said.
“There’s also been a quality improvement project looking at reducing violence and increasing safety on the wards.
“We know that alcohol and drugs and comorbid psychiatric illness increases the risk of suicide, so we’ve been looking at how we equip our front line staff with high quality substance misuse assessment skills.
“We’ve continued to work with public health and local authorities to think about how we reduce risk at frequently used locations.
“We’ve also been doing work with our staff to make sure they’re up-to-date with the issues around online internet use and suicide methods.
“Many people, us included, were concerned the suicide rate might increase as a result of COVID.
“What the figures for Bedfordshire show is there’s no significant trend to be seen as to an increase, and that’s in line with the national picture.
“Our community mental health services consistently receive higher than the national average of referrals, but our case load mirrors that average.”
ELFT chief executive Paul Calaminus said: “A lot of those referrals are about the strength of emotion that people are feeling that end up referred into crisis mental health services or general services.
“Often a lot of low lying factors are about social circumstances, worries about employment and housing, which give rise to some strong emotions.
“The other strand is the power of peers and those of people who’ve lived experience and how they can support each other.
“In Bedfordshire alone, during the past 12 months, there have been more than 2,000 mental health service users befriended and supported by people with lived experience.”
Conservative Sandy councillor Tracey Stock, who chairs the board, asked why the demand for services figures are high in Bedfordshire.
Ms Ruttley replied: “It might be related to the demographics of the population or how those referred use our service or related to the severity of presentation.
“It’s certainly an area we want to delve into more deeply.”
CBC director of public health Celia Shohet said: “The public health team did quite a lot of work on a suicide prevention audit, two years ago.
“Clearly a lot of people are known to health, but there are a proportion who sadly take their lives who’re not known to services.
“That was really helpful in looking at themes whether by geography, age group or risk factors.”
CBC director of social care, health and housing Julie Ogley said: “It’s how can we tackle this together because it’s really worrying when you see those figures.”