There was much fanfare after the government announced it was looking to ease the pressure on the NHS by giving pharmacists the ability to prescribe medicine for certain conditions, freeing up 15 million slots at doctors’ surgeries over the next two years.

Yet this new policy does not get away from the fact that UK healthcare has been chronically underfunded for many years, with 5.7% of the GDP spent on health within the UK in comparison to 9.3% and 10.3% in France and Germany respectively.

I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact this has had on the nation’s mental health. The mental health crisis is costing the UK economy £28bn a year, according to a recent study by AXA UK. Mental ill-health cases have increased among children, the workforce, and among NHS staff across the country as a result of a post-pandemic world and a struggling healthcare system. Depression has doubled within two years, and suicide rates have increased. An NHS survey showed that 25.7% of 17- to 19-year-olds had a probable mental disorder, a shocking figure among teens.

Additionally, an analysis of NHS digital figures has shown that every week 400 NHS workers leave and around 10% of posts are not filled, causing burnout and an increase in mental health leaves among doctors.

The current structure of the NHS means it is difficult to effectively address the mental health crisis impacting the country as a whole. This calls for the need to engage with outside partners, including non-profits and the private sector, to introduce cost-effective solutions to mental health issues including telemedicine, social prescribing, and online platforms. Shifting responsibilities to pharmacists is simply not enough.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine became popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, connecting patients and doctors during lockdown. The UK telemedicine market peaked in 2020 with 71% of consultations conducted online as opposed to 25% in 2019. This shift in medicine has kept the healthcare system afloat as it undergoes its ongoing struggles. It is a cost-effective resource that is being used across the country by the NHS as well as by organisations to provide healthcare support to patients. 

The NHS, to amplify its services, has joined partnerships using this resource to reach more people given its staff shortages. I have been a supporter of one of the many partnerships joined by the NHS which is the Best for You initiative, a partnership between CW+, and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, aiming to provide immediate mental health support for young people in crisis as well as an ongoing personalised care for as long as needed. Through philanthropic support, the foundation has been able to reach 50,000 people within a network of 75 regional, national, and international partners after having secured £6.5 million to date.

The initiative has allowed for greater inclusion of patients through cheaper, more efficient, and faster ways of conducting mental health practice.

Social Prescribing

Another way to address the mental health crisis, away from technology, is social prescribing which reconnects people to nature and society. Social prescribing has been introduced by the College of Medicine to reconnect people to society after two years of isolation. It uses nature and other social activities to address heightened ill-mental health.

Social prescribing is about linking patients to “social prescribers” or “link workers” who can identify and design personalised solutions to mental health disorders through utilising voluntary community, faith and social enterprises services such as gardening clubs, exercise classes, art groups, and others.

This unconventional approach has proved to be another efficient and cost-effective way of addressing the current health crisis, using available local resources, at a time when the NHS is struggling to deliver basic services.

Online Platforms

Better Health, an online platform launched by a coalition of leading mental health charities, including CALM, The Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Innovations, and a range of commercial, third sector, NHS and local authority partners, is another resource for awareness on mental health disorders. It offers visuals which include ways to deal with mental ill-health and supports parents and guardians in looking after the mental wellbeing of their children. This initiative is also an important way through which mental health awareness can be raised and addressed efficiently, beyond the NHS.

Digital transformation is one of the only viable solutions that would secure the future of the NHS. Unconventional methods such as social prescribing have also had a major impact on addressing mental health. Through partnering with non-traditional entities, I am optimistic that the NHS will be able to overcome current challenges, relieving itself from the pressures that have negatively impacted its ability to accomplish its vital duties.

George Farha is Founder of GSP Capital, philanthropist and supporter of the Best For You initiative.

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