A FOI request found that the number of calls to the service that were abandoned has also increased dramatically
"The legacy of the pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis has been challenging for many people’s wellbeing, but an increase in demand for mental health support of this level is alarming.” Paul Sweeney, mental health spokesperson, Scottish Labour
The number of mental health calls to NHS 24, Scotland’s national telehealth service, similar to England’s 111 phone service, has increased by 580% over a four-year period, according to new figures.
The figures, obtained through a freedom of information (FOI) request by the Scottish Labour Party, show that the number of calls made to NHS 24 relating to mental health rose from 20,434 in 2019 to 139,008 in 2022.
The number of calls to the service that were abandoned has risen 6,200% in four years – from 645 in 2019 to 40,836 in 2022. In percentage terms, in 2019, 3.2% of calls were abandoned compared with 29.4% in 2022.
Paul Sweeney, Scottish Labour’s mental health spokesperson, said the Scottish government should increase mental health funding to deal with this “unprecedented demand”. He said: “The numbers speak for themselves – Scotland is in the grips of a mental health epidemic and people need all the support they can get. The legacy of the pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis has been challenging for many people’s wellbeing, but an increase in demand for mental health support of this level is alarming.”
He added: “There is a concerning risk that this jump in mental health calls is partly due to people not being able to access the help they need from another primary care provider due to prolonged waiting lists. That the SNP is freezing spending on mental health services in this climate is nothing short of shameful.”
Sweeney said that the SNP should take seriously its commitment to increase mental health funding to 10% of the NHS budget, and that it should start by reversing its mental health funding freeze in the 2023/34 budget, so that the “unprecedented demand” is met “proportionately and efficiently.”
.A Scottish government spokesperson responded by saying that direct investment in mental health had “more than doubled since 2020-21”. She added that the draft budget for mental health services had increased 139% over the current parliament. “We continue to invest in growing the workforce and seek further improvements,” she said. “The mental health workforce has expanded significantly, with a record number of staff providing more varied support to a larger number of people than ever before. The psychology and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) staffing has more than doubled since 2007.”
Concerns about mental health funding have been exacerbated by Scotland’s plans to create a National Care Service to centralise the social care sector. Mental health funding for the forthcoming financial year has been frozen. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) in Scotland has also urged the government to ensure the mental health sector receives the funding it needs.
All four UK nations are facing soaring rates of demand for mental health services. Reducing or freezing spend on mental health can be a false economy, as people with mental health problems are more likely to drop out of the workplace or develop physical illnesses, putting more pressure on health services. We’d like to see all UK governments and assemblies provide adequate funding for mental health as well as considering more innovative and perhaps lower-cost ways of preventing and treating mental health problems.