Supporting mental health in communities during the coronavirus crisis

3 April 2020

Bringing together voluntary, community and statutory services

Centre for Mental Health, Association of Mental Health Providers and the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network

The global coronavirus outbreak is putting the mental as well as physical health of people around the world under strain. For people with existing mental health difficulties, this may be especially pronounced, at a time when mental health services are stretched and coping with higher sickness absence due to the virus.

Across the UK, voluntary and community organisations are already taking action and working with their NHS and local government partners in response to the pressing needs of the communities they serve and come from.

This briefing looks at how statutory service commissioners and providers are working with their voluntary and community sector partners to respond to the crisis and gives practical advice on how to build effective partnerships locally.

Key elements of effective partnership working include:

  • Enabling VCS staff and volunteers to work safely alongside NHS, social care and public health colleagues, including with access to protective equipment and training in how to use it
  • Supporting smaller organisations that work with groups with higher risks to mental health or who find mainstream support less helpful 
  • Maintaining safeguarding to protect people at risk of abuse or exploitation

While partnership working and mutuality are in evidence in many places, there are also significant barriers. These include worries about the financial wellbeing and sustainability of voluntary and community organisations; restrictive or insecure and short-term contracts for those providing services with public funding; and reduced mental health care commissioning capacity while attention is focused on the response to coronavirus.

There are a number of practical steps that NHS and local authority commissioners can take to work with their voluntary and community sector partners to help them to maximise their contribution now without jeopardising their longer term sustainability, including:

  • Working together to plan crisis responses, identify key areas of need and activity and draw on the intelligence of VCS partners about where attention is needed
  • Providing additional funding to expand services that need to grow to meet extra need (e.g. helplines) or to shift resources from face-to-face to digital media
  • Relaxing contractual restrictions and processes and ensuring that VCS organisations will continue to be paid if they take on work outside their existing contracts

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