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Mental health patients rely on ambulances as primary care falters

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What does primary care need to pick up the slack? What does primary care need to pick up the slack?

A ‘truly shocking’ proportion of mental health patients are being forced to use emergency ambulance services when they have been let down by primary care, a Labour MP has revealed.

Making a Freedom of Information request to the emergency services, Luciana Berger showed that paramedics helped 172,799 people in crisis in 2016-17, a rise of more than 30,000 patients (23%) since 2014-15.

READ MORE: Hunt reveals £1.3 billion boost for mental health services

An additional 55,000 hours were spent supporting people with their mental health last year, compared with 2014-15 –showing a rise of 32%. In London the time spent rose by 45%.

‘Jeremy Hunt has no other option but to introduce ringfenced budgets for mental health to ensure funding reaches the frontline,’ Ms Berger told the Guardian. ‘The health secretary must take urgent action for the sake of patients and staff.

‘Too much money pledged for mental health is not reaching the sector. In the absence of ringfenced budget, funding is being diverted to prop up other areas of the NHS.’

READ MORE: Children 'trapped' in hospital by lack of mental health care

Jeremy Hunt recently announced through the Department of Health that £1.3 billion would be spent creating 21,000 new mental health posts and a ‘major drive’ would begin to retrain mental health staff – though Ms Berger described these promises as a ‘red herring’.

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the number of mental health nurses has fallen by 5,000 since 2010. They criticised the government’s plans as ‘unclear’ and implored the need for ‘significant funding’ to make a difference.

‘It’s truly shocking the measures people have to go to receive the support they need,’ said RCN head of nursing practice Wendy Preston. ‘Right now mental health services just can’t meet demand and those in crisis have no choice but to call emergency services.

READ MORE: Action plan to make general practice 'the place to be'

‘It’s clear that we need more mental health nurses, but it’s also about educating the whole nursing workforce about this issue. We’ve reached a point where mental health patients need help everywhere from schools and workplaces to GP services and emergency departments, and our health care teams need to be ready to provide support wherever possible.’

The Department of Health said mental health is still a ‘top priority’ for the Conservative government.

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