Scotland’s NHS mental health hotline abandoned

Mental Health

Between July 2020 and June this year, 40,424 of the 129,200 calls made to the NHS 24 Mental Health Hub were terminated by those seeking help

Almost a third of calls made to the official NHS Scotland mental health hotline in its first year of operation were abandoned, internal figures have revealed.

Between July 2020 and June this year, 40,424 of the 129,200 calls made to the NHS 24 Mental Health Hub were terminated by those seeking help.

The statistics, released on World Mental Health Day, were published following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

In March, Nicola Sturgeon described the number of calls being missed by the helpline as “unacceptable”, but since then the trend appears to have continued.

The Mental Health Hub is run by specialist nurses and some non-medical staff who are trained to provide a “compassionate response” to people in distress.

It has been operating 24/7 since July last year and has since been in high demand, with around 354 calls being received every day in its first year of operation.

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the pandemic had imposed “an enormous mental burden on people who may have already been struggling”.

He added: “Unfortunately these figures show that many of those who reached out for help didn’t get it.

“They join the many others who have already been let down by the dearth of mental health support in this country.

“The Scottish Government shamefully abandoned the training of new mental health first aiders when the pandemic struck, falling far behind Englan,d where online training never ceased.”

In its FoI response, NHS 24 said the “nature of calls” to the Mental Health Hub generated “a naturally higher rate of abandonment”.

Asked about the high rate of abandoned calls in March, Ms Sturgeon said it was “not acceptable that anybody who reaches out for mental health support does not get [it].”

Mental wellbeing minister Kevin Stewart said: “We know the pandemic has had a substantial impact on the mental health of the population, and is likely to continue to do so.

“We will continue to deliver on the actions set out in our mental health transition and recovery plan, backed by £120m, and ensure that people can get the right help at the right time.

“As part of this, we will invest an additional £4m to increase the capacity of the NHS 24’s Mental Health Hub.

“In addition, as part of our Programme for Government, we will ensure that by 2026, every GP practice will have access to a mental health and wellbeing service, creating 1,000 additional dedicated staff to help grow community mental health resilience and direct social prescribing.”

Meanwhile, Labour said World Mental Health Day should spur ministers into action, calling for every GP practice in Scotland to have a dedicated mental health worker.

The party’s mental health spokeswoman Carol Mochan said: “We are facing a growing mental health emergency in Scotland.

“Services are stretched to breaking point, with children languishing on record waiting lists and patients routinely waiting more than a year for treatment.

“The full effect of the pandemic on mental health remains to be seen – but we are creating a time bomb for ourselves if we don’t act now.”