One in 10 incidents attended by London Ambulance crews ‘involve mental health’

Around one in 10 incidents attended by the London Ambulance Service (LAS) during the coronavirus pandemic involved mental health, figures show.

Of a total of 826,396 incidents attended between January and September, 81,644 (10%) had a mental health element.

Mental health incidents have increased each month since March, when the Covid-19 lockdown measures were introduced.

June saw the highest proportion of attended call-outs involving mental health, making up 12% of the total, or one in eight calls.

Last year, LAS staff and volunteers attended more than 105,000 incidents where patients were experiencing mental ill-health – roughly 9% of the total attended.

The LAS’s “mental health joint response car” scheme involves six teams of a registered mental health nurse and paramedic being sent to patients in a mental health crisis.

The extended pilot saw an 80% reduction in unnecessary trips to emergency departments in favour of more appropriate mental health care or referrals between January 19 and April 12.

LAS crews operating outside of the scheme discharged 41% of patients at the scene with care or a more suitable referral, the LAS evaluation found.

Mental health nurses also work in LAS control rooms, offering advice on symptoms and helping decide whether a mental health car needs to be dispatched.

The rising number of mental health incidents is examined in the BBC One documentary Ambulance, which will air on Wednesday.

In the episode, crews respond to a call about a suicidal patient pulled out of the River Thames by a passer-by, and help calm down a teenager who has been self-harming.

Keith, a paramedic, said: “It sometimes can feel quite shocking thinking about the sheer amount of mental health patients we are responding to day in and day out.

“Life can be difficult and overwhelming sometimes – that’s why it’s so important for people to reach out and talk to someone they trust.

“Sometimes one conversation is all it takes for someone to get the help they need when they are struggling.”

LAS consultant nurse for mental health Carly Lynch said: “A busy emergency department is not always the right place for someone experiencing a mental health crisis – it can often be an extremely traumatic experience.

“The paramedic and mental health nurse are able to treat both their physical and mental health needs and, once they have assessed the patient, they can encourage them to make a GP appointment, refer them to their mental health team, or call an ambulance if they think they need to go to hospital.

“Working with eight mental health trusts across London, we are helping to provide expert and compassionate care for those in the midst of a crisis.”

– The episode will be broadcast on BBC One at 9pm on Wednesday October 21