Success for pioneering mental health scheme in Cambridgeshire

Staff answering calls for the service

A pioneering mental health scheme had helped reduce the number of people visiting local accident and emergency departments by more than 20 per cent in the first year.

The First Response Service – which can be contacted via the NHS 111 helpline and selecting option 2 - operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and gives people in crisis direct access to mental health advice and help them to avoid unnecessary visits to hospital.

In the first 12 months the number of people visiting local accident and emergency departments has fallen by 21 per cent, and had more than 14,500 calls.

Dr Caroline Meiser-Stedman, consultant psychiatrist and clinical lead for the First Response Service, said: “It has been a very encouraging first year. The sheer number of calls has proved how much people have needed this kind of direct access to mental health professionals.

“Mental health issues can affect one in four people and the First Response Service has given people somewhere to turn to access immediate support. It has also meant they don’t have to go to accident and emergency departments which are often inappropriate for people with mental ill-health.

“We know there is still a long way to go to reduce the numbers of people presenting at accident and emergency departments and give them the correct help that they need, but the figures and the feedback we have had from people we have helped so far are very encouraging.”

The First Response Service also links people directly with two Sanctuaries - out-of-hours ‘safe-havens’ - run by mental health charity Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and South Lincolnshire Mind. One Sanctuary is in Cambridge and the other is in Peterborough.

Open between 6pm and 1am, the Sanctuaries offer people in mental health crisis emotional and practical support. Referrals into the Sanctuaries are made through the First Response Service.

The initial success of the project – which was initially a pilot scheme - has been closely monitored by other health organisations that are keen to understand how similar services could be created elsewhere in the country.

Hannah Turner, Joint Head of Services for Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and South Lincolnshire Mind, who manages the Sanctuaries said “We are proud to be able to offer practical and emotional support to individuals, who are experiencing mental health crisis. Our Sanctuaries are designed to be a calm, welcoming and safe space, and since opening we have received over 2,500 referrals.”

In June of this year, the service was awarded a further £3m of funding to ensure it will continue to operate for a further 12 months. The funding was awarded by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Sustainability and Transformation Programme (STP) which has the key priority of improving community services for vulnerable people. The STP is a collaboration between all NHS organisations and local authorities in the area who are working together to improve health, wellbeing and experiences of care.

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