Open Letter To Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallett DBE

Chair of UK Covid-19 Inquiry

Dear Baroness Hallett

We are writing as a coalition of 27 organisations, listed below,  who came together during the initial Covid 19 national lockdown, in April 2020, to ensure that the four Governments of the UK delivered a comprehensive set of measures to urgently tackle the growing mental health crisis we have seen during the pandemic, including the provision of accessible counselling and psychotherapy services. We are comprised of professional bodies, service providers, trainers and represent over 80,000 individual therapists who have played a critical role supporting our most vulnerable people and communities over the past two years.

Our plea to you, in your role as Chair of the Public Inquiry into Covid 19, is to include Mental Health as an additional and separate category within the draft terms of reference, which are currently subject to public consultation.  Extensive evidence has demonstrated that the mental health costs of Covid 19 are as profound and as long lasting as the physical health costs and these need to be considered comprehensively by the committee in terms of preparedness, response and recovery.

Our experience is that this was a missing element of the Government’s strategy throughout each phase of their response to tackling the disease, despite extensive international evidence of the mental health impacts that health events of this magnitude have on society.

The current draft terms of investigation include a review of the “response of the health and care sector” which very much focuses on the physical impacts of the disease but neglects to examine the impact and response by Government to the vast mental health impact itself and the various response measures put in place to protect the public and those working on the frontline.

As a consequence of the pandemic over 1.6 million adults are on waiting lists for mental health treatment and an estimated 8 million adults can’t even get onto a waiting list.  The number of children and young people with mental health problems has risen dramatically from one in nine to one in six impacted, this needs serious and separate consideration from the review of physical health impacts. We know that demand support is growing and is likely to continue for years ahead. Some 71% of therapists surveyed by BACP have seen an increase in the number of inquiries or referrals for their services since the start of the pandemic and more than half (51%) of therapists think we’ll continue to see the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health for up to five years.

Public opinion strongly supports the need for Government to get to grips with the mental health impact of the pandemic. A You Gov survey of GB adults undertaken on behalf of BACP in February 2022 highlighted that 68% of people agree the UK government should invest more in mental health because of the pandemic. Only 14% of people agreed the UK government has done enough to support mental health during the past two years.

As part of a review of the mental health impact of the pandemic this inquiry needs to consider the following critical issues:

• Why a comprehensive mental health response wasn’t put in place at the outset, given the extensive international evidence of mental health impacts of pandemics and epidemics that pre-existed the arrival of Covid 19 in the UK.

• What planning or provision was made once there was clear evidence of the trauma impacts of the pandemic on frontline staff, those with Covid or long Covid, or the many thousands of families impacted by loss and bereavement and unable to visit dying relatives in care homes and hospitals or attend funerals. The mental health impacts of isolation, insecurity, changing work and family circumstances and general anxiety during each stage of lockdown.

• The mental health impacts of the measures that were put in place alongside lockdowns to mitigate their impact, including furlough, housing for homeless people, practical support for those unable to access services, and the impact of school closures on children and young people.

• The negative consequences of restrictions on the mental health of groups most impacted by the disease and the disproportionate impacts on those living in poverty, on people of colour, on children and young people and on women.

• Why, despite the extensive evidence on mental health impact, this is neglected in plans to tackle the NHS backlog?

We urge you and members of the inquiry committee to urgently reconsider the terms of the inquiry and ensure that mental health is given the consideration it deserves so that future impacts can be managed and that people are given the appropriative and accessible support they urgently need.

Yours sincerely
Brenda Tighe
Chair – Northern Ireland Counselling Forum

Members of the Covid 19 Mental Health Coalition include:

Association of Child Psychotherapists
Association of Christian Counsellors
Association for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in the NHS
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
British Infertility Counselling Association
British Psychoanalytic Council
Campaign to End Loneliness
The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists
COSCA Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland
The Council for Health and Work
Human Givens Institute
Independent Age
IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research)
National Counselling Society
Northern Ireland Counselling Forum
Participation and the Practice of Rights
Psychosynthesis Trust
Tavistock Relationships
United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
Vocational Rehabilitation Association
WPF Therapy