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Understanding access to secondary mental health services during and after the COVID-19 pandemic

In this project, we explored how the pandemic affected access to secondary mental health services. Based on the views and experiences of mental health service users, carers (individuals caring for someone who uses mental health services) and mental health staff, we produced evidence on what hindered access to care during and before the pandemic, and proposed principles for good practice in maintaining access to mental health services


The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges in accessing and providing mental health services. As a result of the restrictions posed by the pandemic, some people who would benefit from mental healthcare may not receive the support they need, and mental health staff may face difficult decisions concerning, for example, prioritisation and adjustments in care delivery.


In seeking to understand influences on access to and provision of secondary mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, THIS Institute undertook a research study into the views and experiences of mental health service users, carers and staff.

Between June and September 2020, we conducted 69 in-depth interviews with members of three stakeholder groups from across England. We sought to understand their experiences of accessing and providing secondary mental healthcare in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working with staff and experts-by-experience and using peer research methods allowed us to understand and describe participants’ experience accurately and authentically, valuing the expertise of those involved while acknowledging differences in views.

The findings from this study have been published in BMC PsychiatryBMJ Open and in Social Science & Medicine  and are summarised in this long read.

Funding and ethics

This study is funded by the Health Foundation’s grant to The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute). It is independently led by THIS Institute and the McPin Foundation. The study was reviewed by the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

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