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Pandemic heaps pressure on UK mental health services

By Julian Shea in London | | Updated: 2020-11-10 23:48
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Lockdown in the United Kingdom has resulted in a huge rise in the number of people contemplating suicide and caused some young children affected by school closures to lose basic skills and go backwards in their development, two separate reports have warned.

The mental health crisis has seen many people struggle with isolation and anxiety, and some of those most severely affected are only seeking help when their symptoms become acute.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists report says mental health services are "overflowing" with patients, and the London Ambulance Service has seen a steep rise in the number of people attempting to take their own lives, with crews attending 37 cases each day, as opposed to 22 cases 12 months ago.

"This is a critical moment for the government to act to prevent a second, mental health, pandemic," Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, told the Daily Telegraph. "It has to invest in mental health services in the community right now and give those most at risk the option of face-to-face support if they need it, even in areas with the strictest lockdown restrictions."

At the same time, a report from schools inspectorate Ofsted has revealed the impact of the crisis on early years education, which the government says underlines the importance of keeping schools open, after the lengthy shutdown earlier in the year.

Ofsted found examples of potty-trained children who had regressed to wearing nappies, and others who had lost such basic skills as the ability to use a knife and fork correctly, in addition to harder to quantify damage to learning in the classroom, and reports of health concerns related to lack of exercise and mental health-related issues.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders' union, told the BBC the report "starkly shows the educational and emotional impact of school closures, and why we need to do everything possible to keep schools open," but also warned that issues such as safety measures and having to find replacement staff for those needing to self-isolate was creating a funding crisis.

The human impact is also being felt in the job market, with a record 314,000 redundancies recorded in the three months to September, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, or ONS.

The rate of unemployment rose from 4.5 percent to 4.8 percent, its highest total since November 2016. Some economists have suggested this figure may have been increased by employers shedding staff in anticipation of the furlough program ending in October, only for a late policy change to see it extended into the new year.

More positive news, however, has come on the medical front where, following Monday's announcement by Pfizer and BioNTech about progress being made in their vaccine trials, a member of the government's vaccine task force has given a committee of members of Parliament an optimistic outlook on the subject.

John Bell, a regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said he thought there might be "two or three vaccines" in the coming months, and called Monday's news "a massive step forward".

"It also signals, I think, that many of the other vaccines that have the same immunogenicity are likely also to be efficacious," he told members of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee.

"So I wouldn't be surprised if we hit the new year with two or three vaccines, all of which could be distributed. And that's why I'm quite optimistic of getting enough vaccinations done in the first quarter of next year that, by spring, things will start to look much more normal than they do now."

Denmark's plan to cull its mink population because of concern about a new mutant strain of the novel coronavirus that has been linked to mink farms has run into difficulty after it emerged the government may not have the necessary authority to order it.

The passing of emergency legislation in Denmark's Parliament needs a two-thirds majority, which the Social Democrat-led minority government does not have, after the center-right Liberals said they would not support the move.

It could still be passed through the ordinary legislative process, which only needs a simple majority, but this would be slower.

"We are in a global health crisis, and therefore the government chose to take a resolute decision," said Mogens Jensen, the minister for food, agriculture and fisheries.

The law could still pass with more time for debate or if the government introduces normal legislation, which requires only a simple majority.

Jensen insisted there had been "no time to waste" after health authorities warned of a risk to public health.

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