As we continue to unlock and begin to recover from the pandemic in Wales, uncertainty still reigns with Mark Drakeford, writes James Evans MS.
His continual threats of further lockdown this winter are of huge concern when we are finally beginning to wake up to the fact that lockdowns have had a hugely detrimental impact on the nation’s mental health.
The mental health crisis has only been exacerbated by perpetual lockdown, economic struggles and continual uncertainty. It paints a bleak picture in Wales that 6,689 people were referred for Local Primary Mental Health Support Services (LPMHSS) in March 2021, the highest figures since November 2020, when 6,126 were referred by their GP for intervention. However, there are backlogs which haven’t been met in the months since the beginning of the pandemic. Ordinarily, about 5,000 or so are referred through this service every month, and it’s clear that the numbers since March 2020 haven’t increased that much to tackle the backlog.
Shockingly, it was reported this month that 1.5 million children in the UK will need mental health support in the near future. It’s clear, our children are paying the cost of lockdown policies.
On a Wales-wide basis, less than three quarters of LPMHSS were carried out within 28 days (72.4%) – this is down 10% since March 2020 when 82.1% received their assessment within 28 days. The Welsh Government are failing people with mental health services on one hand and not offering much hope with the other.
Take Welsh sport for example, for too long fans have been made to wait to return to see their local team. I’m a firm believer that fans at sporting events benefit psychologically by the feeling of community that is enjoyed between fans of the game or of a particular team. I really do believe that this sense of community bolsters people’s feeling of well-being. When someone goes to a match, they get to experience a range of positive emotions that help ease the strain on any mental health issues they may be dealing with, this is their break from any problems they may be dealing with in life.
The Welsh Government need to consider the future of our vital local teams when they announce their next steps or our local clubs may not be around for much longer if they don’t see fans going through gates again. We cannot let our clubs become another casualty of this pandemic along with mental health services, especially when they help form a bedrock for the community. The sooner we see fans back in stadiums and communities coming together again, the sooner we will see a lift in community spirits.
There is also the situation around people’s physical health throughout lockdowns, bizarrely the Welsh Government enforced a policy of shutting gyms, banning physical team sports and shutting other health facilities longer than other parts of the UK. Whilst at the same time allowing people to go to McDonalds and a wide range of other fast food outlets.
As long as the science and data supports it, I believe gyms and leisure facilities should be classed as essential services moving forward, with this status they should be protected from closure. Never again should people have their physical outlets taken from them, when all they are trying to do is stay physically and mentally fit.
James Evans is the Member of the Senedd for Brecon & Radnorshire and the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing & Mid-Wales.