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Secondary mental health care referrals reach almost 3 million

Around 1 in 20 people in England were in contact with secondary mental health care services in 2019/20, according to new figures.

Published by NHS Digital in the Mental Health Bulletin: 2019–20 Annual Report, the numbers highlight a growing number of people in need of care for complex mental health issues.

For patients diagnosed with mild or moderate mental health issues, treatment is usually provided by a GP or through a form of counselling or online support.

If a patient's symptoms are considered too complex to treat using any of these methods, they can then be referred to secondary care which can include hospital admission.

Examples of such issues include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depressive disorder, personality disorders, or mental illness alongside substance misuse.

According to the data, the number of people referred for secondary mental health, learning disability or autism care services has risen from 2,726,700 in 2018/19 to 2,878,600 in 2019/20.

The number is equivalent to 5.1% of the population of England, or around 1 in 20.

Of those that accessed secondary care, 763,888 were under 18 and 548,500 were children, while 30,600 were in contact with secondary care for perinatal mental health issues.

Read more: Mental Health Act reform to bring care and treatment "into the 21st century"

Socioeconomic background and ethnicity were key factors in how likely a patient was to be referred to secondary care.

In children, those from the most deprived areas were more than twice as likely to be referred as those from the least deprived areas (73,500 vs 34,200, respectively).

The same pattern was seen in perinatal referrals, with 4,400 patients from the most deprived areas and 1,800 from the least deprived.

Regarding ethnicity, 70.5 per 100,000 black or black British people were in a mental health setting and underwent at least one restrictive intervention in 2019/20, compared with 18.7 per 100,000 white people.

A restrictive intervention can include physical restraint, chemical restraint, mechanical restraint seclusion, and segregation.

Although the figures show an increase in numbers of people referred from secondary care, the report does include data from more secondary care providers: 178 providers submitted data in 2018/19 compared with 302 in 2019/20.

In addition, the number of referrals will include some people who did not attend any services or received treatment, for which they are still considered to have been 'in contact' with secondary care.

To read the full Mental Health Bulletin: 2019–20 Annual Report, click here.

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