Emergency mental health 999 calls increase during Covid

As reported by the Ambulance Service (SAS), while the overall volume of emergency calls had decreased during the pandemic, mental health assistance calls had risen by 9%.

The service is reporting increased costs of approximately £ 18.5m, almost half attributed to staffing, as a result of Covid.

In addition, 670 SAS workers have thus far received positive test results for Covid.

According to Pauline Howie, chief executive at SAS, non-scheduled emergency demand had fallen by close to 13% when the lockdown began last year, as she stated to Holyrood’s health committee.

Howie also noted that when Covid-19 measures were eased, the demand began to reach typical levels in August, and, later, as there were even more restrictions added, the demand fell again.

Unscheduled demand has fallen, but the demand as far as mental health related calls increased during that time period, said Howie.

She noted that the mental health presentations which required their services saw an increase of 9% and that mental health calls now represent 6% of the total calls for ambulance service.

Although the workload for emergency services had fallen by close to a third at certain points of the lockdown, there have been slower response times according to all measures, the health committee was informed.

The SAS explained that slower response times for emergencies were in part caused by the additional time needed to don and doff equipment, plus the increased time for performing more stringent cleaning regimes.

‘Struggling Mentally’

A recent BBC news article saw Gail Topping, who works out of Livingston Ambulance Station, and has over 20 years of experience as a paramedic, noted that it was a “very challenging” period for SAS workers who had to adjust to new working protocols.

She noted that they are definitely responding to many more people with mental struggles due to the restrictions that have been enacted.

Topping added that she knows a number of her colleagues have experienced more frequent calls regarding suicide deaths.

When Topping was questioned about the pandemic’s impact on paramedics, she said that they respond to acutely unwell people, if they are either mentally or physically not well, and because of the extra PPE, the element of human interaction can sometimes be lost.

An important element of caring for patients would entail my holding their hand, providing reassurance, and even hugging them. Unfortunately, most of that was lost during the pandemic.

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