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Scottish Government urged to adopt ‘radical new approach’ to mental health care

A radical new approach is needed to mental health care in Scotland, 17 organisations have insisted (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A radical new approach is needed to mental health care in Scotland, 17 organisations have insisted (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Scotland needs a “radical new approach” to dealing with mental health in the wake of the Covid pandemic, a number of leading organisations have said.

While the Scottish Government’s current mental health strategy is due for a “review and refresh” in 2022, a group of 17 different organisations insisted ministers need to go much further.

Scotland’s Mental Health Partnership said: “We no longer feel that even a radical refresh is adequate or appropriate given the challenges we now face.

“Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the service and policy landscapes have changed dramatically and further major developments that will affect both mental health services and population mental health and wellbeing needs are on the horizon.”

It insisted that new “long-term and forward looking strategy” was needed – saying this should have the ambition of making Scotland a nation where “good mental health and wellbeing can be enjoyed by all”.

The organisation, which includes the Samaritans and SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health), as well as the Royal College of GPs Scotland and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, made the case for a new strategy in a paper to be published next week.

This argues that “the Covid-19 pandemic, and the responses and restrictions put into place by UK and Scottish governments to manage it, have both had substantial impacts on wellbeing and mental health”.

The paper also notes the “significant changes” in mental health services that have taken place.

It says: “Face-to-face therapy and support groups and most social activities ceased to operate because of the pandemic restrictions and few have as yet restarted.

“Community mental health support has been largely delivered primarily as a telephone or online service, with face-to-face appointments rarely made available.

“GP practices provide the majority of clinical mental health care in the community, and continue to report severe workload pressures, mounting demand for mental health care and also face a significant workforce shortage.”

GPs provide a significant amount of mental healthcare, but the paper notes they are experiencing ‘severe workload pressures’ (Anthony Devlin/PA)

As part of a new approach, the Scottish Government is urged to adopt a “mental health in all policies” stance across the government and wider public sector.

The partnership also suggests that for those with long-term mental health conditions a “consistent self-management approach” is needed, to allow them to maintain their recovery and prevent any relapse.

It also calls for a national improvement programme to be commissioned to improve the physical health of people with severe mental conditions.

Policy lead for the partnership, Gordon Johnston, said: “Scotland is a very different place in 2022. We face new challenges on top of those that existed before Covid.

“Mental health and wellbeing has become more prominent in public consciousness during the pandemic and now is the time to capitalise with bold actions.

“Scotland’s Mental Health Partnership believes a radical new approach is now required to ensure good mental health and wellbeing can be enjoyed by all.”

Mental health minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are committed to reviewing and significantly refreshing our Mental Health Strategy this year, building on the implementation of our Mental Health Covid Transition and  Recovery Plan.

“We want to ensure that our future strategy is evidence-based, informed by lived experience and underpinned by equality and human rights.

“It will focus on outcomes and will be driven by data and intelligence.

“The scope of the strategy will be wider than before, with an increasing focus on wellbeing and prevention.

“We will also consider how the strategy can take account of social factors and inequalities that may impact a person’s mental health and wellbeing.

“We have already undertaken extensive engagement with our stakeholders to help us shape the strategy.

“We will be launching a public consultation later this month and will take forward further engagement activity over the summer months, including with people with lived experience, to inform this important work.”