The impact of COVID-19 on mental health service utilisation in England

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on population mental health and the need for mental health services in many countries, while also disrupting critical mental health services and capacity, as a response to the pandemic. Mental health providers were asked to reconfigure wards to accommodate patients with COVID-19, thereby reducing capacity to provide mental health services. This is likely to have widened the existing mismatch between demand and supply of mental health care in the English NHS. We quantify the impact of these rapid service reconfigurations on activity levels for mental health providers in England during the first thirteen months (March 2020–March 2021) of the COVID-19 pandemic. We use monthly mental health service utilisation data for a large subset of mental health providers in England from January 1, 2015 to March 31, 2021. We use multivariate regression to estimate the difference between observed and expected utilisation from the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Expected utilisation levels (i.e. the counterfactual) are estimated from trends in utilisation observed during the pre-pandemic period January 1, 2015 to February 31, 2020. We measure utilisation as the monthly number of inpatient admissions, discharges, net admissions (admissions less discharges), length of stay, bed days, number of occupied beds, patients with outpatient appointments, and total outpatient appointments. We also calculate the accumulated difference in utilisation from the start of the pandemic period. There was a sharp reduction in total inpatient admissions and net admissions at the beginning of the pandemic, followed by a return to pre-pandemic levels from September 2020. Shorter inpatient stays are observed over the whole period and bed days and occupied bed counts had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels by March 2021. There is also evidence of greater use of outpatient appointments, potentially as a substitute for inpatient care.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100227
Number of pages12
JournalSSM - Mental Health
Early online date8 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

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