Has the number of people using mental health services increased?

11 January 2017
What was claimed

1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day, compared to 2010/11.

Our verdict

NHS figures suggest the number using mental health services is increasing but changes to the way these figures are gathered means we can’t say for sure or put an exact figure on it.

“If we look at what is happening in relation to mental health treatment in the National Health Service, we see 1,400 more people every day accessing mental health services.”

Theresa May, 11 January 2017

The Department of Health told us that the Prime Minister was referring to the difference between the number of patients using NHS adult mental health, learning disability and autism services in 2010/11 and 2014/15 in England.

However, changes to the way information about mental health service users are collected means that the figures for these two years aren’t directly comparable.

NHS Digital, which publishes the data, told us that they can’t be used to find an exact trend for those years either. That means we can’t say for sure how the numbers of people being treated has changed.

The figures from before 2010/11 do show us that the number of people accessing mental health services was increasing up until that point.

NHS Digital told us that this, combined with the fact that uses of the Mental Health Act increased between 2011 and 2015, probably means that the number of people accessing mental health services has increased in the last few years. We just can’t say by exactly how much.

More recent figures have been published since the government made its calculations and since Theresa May made her claim. These estimate that the number of patients using NHS mental health, learning disability and autism services was just under 2.6 million in 2016/17.  The figure includes children’s mental health services for the first time. The number of adults using mental health services in the same year was just over 2 million.

These figures aren’t directly comparable with any from previous years because NHS Digital changed the way they were collected in 2016/17, including the addition of data for children and young people and counting a small number of people who changed mental health provider.

NHS Digital says its best estimate is that there has been a 10% increase in the number of people in contact with adult mental health, learning disabilities and autism services between 2015/16 and 2016/17. But it also says that this estimate is “possibly unreliable.”

There were around 1.8 million people in contact with NHS adult mental health services in 2014/15 and 2015/16 (these two years are directly comparable).

NHS Digital also told us that these figures don’t include people who just go to their GP about mental health issues or the Adult Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme which provides therapies for people with anxiety and depression.


Update 3 April 2017

We updated this piece with more information from NHS Digital.

Correction 4 April 2017

We updated this piece to clarify that the figures relate to England.

Update 30 November 2017

We updated this piece to include the latest figures.

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