Suicidal patients in England have been failed by the NHS as trusts fail to answer emergency calls with lines under a ‘record demand’.
NHS crisis lines signpost patients to services and provide urgent mental health support over the phone for adults. NHS England has made £7m available so the service can improve its lines, but figures by the BBC reported that from 29 of the 47 health trusts with crisis lines, at least 418,000 calls went unanswered in 2021-22. This amounts to 20% of the total calls. In 10 trusts, callers had to wait over an hour for their call to be answered. One caller said staff told them to ‘think happy thoughts’ after repeatedly trying to get their call answered.
One patient who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, reported having to call over seven times over two days to get through. “Your brain already makes you feel that you’re alone. And then to have the people that are meant to care not answer, it makes it 10 times worse,” she said. Hannah further reported she was blamed for ‘not wanting to help [her]self’ before ending the call.
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust have since apologised for the way that Hannah was treated and claimed improvements have been made.
Coroners have expressed fears that patients are being assessed incorrectly. One man who died after already having alerted the service of his situation was not referred for support. Less than one in six trusts that responded to the BBC’s freedom of information requests said that all their crisis line staff were qualified mental health professionals. Patients are now turning to services such as A&E in attempt to save their own lives.