Confronting COVID has changed the way we live for so many. Some people have lost jobs, seen their personal circumstances shift or felt the foundations which shape them rocked to the core. It’s believed that this has, in turn, increased mental ill-health and, for some, led to a crisis point.
In March of last year, to help deal with the anticipated influx of patients to Emergency Departments (EDs), teams at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) and the area’s Health and Social Care Partnerships worked quickly to set up new units to provide specialist care and treatment to those facing a mental health crisis. It was hoped that by setting up the new Mental Health Assessment Units (MHAUs), pressure on EDs would decrease and those who needed help most would receive the most appropriate and timely care and treatment response. The pioneering approach has been so successful that it will continue long after the pandemic has been brought under control.
Now, patients who face a particularly difficult time and present to EDs or through the Scottish Ambulance Service or Police Scotland, are transported to dedicated MHAUs at Stobhill and Leverndale hospitals for specialist mental health assessment.
Amy MacLean, the Nurse Team Lead at the unit at Leverndale says the impact has been huge. “We set these units up very quickly, to help reduce pressure on our Emergency Departments in anticipation of what might come as a result of the pandemic.
“These are unprecedented times. People have not been seeing their families, not been getting out. There’s been a fear of catching COVID and for some, a fear of going out. All of that on top of the massive shifts that people have faced, from furlough, to losing jobs or relationship breakdowns – for some that can lead to a mental health crisis and that’s where we come in.”
The units are bright, welcoming and provide a safe space for those who need to be assessed. It is a far cry from the often clinical and stressful setting of a hospital ED.
Amy adds: “If someone is medically fit, they can be seen here immediately. The units are nurse led and we involve patients fully in their assessment and care. The vast majority of patients will go home after that assessment with the right level of support, with some having appointments for the next day for our community teams to visit them at home to take forward their care.
“It’s about giving people the right care at the right time in the right setting. So much of what we do is about reassurance that people are not on their own – we’re here for them, nothing will surprise us and we never judge. We create a safe space and we’re here for the people we work with.”
The MHAUs have not only met their initial target of diverting people from EDs to a more appropriate clinical environment, but they are also meeting more demand. The service currently accepts referrals from EDs, Police Scotland, Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS 24, NHS 24 Mental Health Hub and GP Out of Hours services and is unable to accept self-referrals. However, from the beginning of May, as part of an initial pilot, GPs in South Glasgow can refer patients directly to the MHAUs. This will be rolled out to all GPs across NHSGGC at the beginning of June.
The benefits have been felt by partners who often are called to help those in greatest need.
Chief Inspector Janie Thomson-Goldie, of Partnerships and Resourcing at Police Scotland's Greater Glasgow Police division says: “Police officers come into contact with people in distress on a regular basis. During the last year, the MHAUs have provided valuable guidance and professional support to keep people safe 24/7.
“The partnership work over the last year has meant the overwhelming majority of vulnerable people got the required support in a timely manner, avoiding lengthy waits in EDs. This also meant police officers were returned to front line duties as quickly as possible.
“It is great news that they are to be made a permanent service and will no doubt assist many more vulnerable people as we continue to navigate the ongoing health crisis of COVID."
Gordon Quinn, Head of Service for the Scottish Ambulance Service in the West Region, said: “We have been faced with many different challenges as a result of COVID-19. With social interactions being limited as a result of restrictions, it’s vital that health care providers and emergency services are able to provide additional support to those who require help related to mental health. This will focus on getting the best possible care pathway for patients in crisis or distress to ensure they have the right care at the right time.
“We look forward to working alongside our colleagues at NHSGGC to ensure we continue to provide the very best care to patients across Scotland.”
Amy believes there is likely to be further mental ill-health fall-out from COVID, but the team will be there, 24/7, 365 days a year to help pick up the pieces.
“If you’re struggling, reach out,” she concludes. “You’re not alone. Things may be difficult right now but it will get better and there is appropriate support for you which is always available. Reach out and we will help you get you through it.”
If you require support
Over the phone
Sometimes it’s helpful just to talk to someone, especially if being alone at home is making you feel low.
The NHS 24 Mental Health Hub is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 111.
You can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 116 123.
The Samaritans also provide information on the effects of coronavirus on mental health.
You can phone Breathing Space for advice and support on 0800 83 85 87. The service is open:
If you’re experiencing a mental health issues and you can phone your GP practice.
If you are already known to a mental health team you can contact them directly.
If you’re unable to talk to them you can call 111 to speak with NHS24.
If you need an emergency ambulance, phone 999.