NHS mental health ambulances with dimmed lights to calm patients, will ease A&E pressures

Conventional ambulances have a bright yellow interior which can be overwhelming for mentally unwell individuals - Hollie Adams/Getty Images
Conventional ambulances have a bright yellow interior which can be overwhelming for mentally unwell individuals - Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Up to 100 specialist mental health ambulances which have dimmable lights and a calm interior will be rolled out across England in the next few years to help give more specialised care and alleviate A&E pressures.

Conventional ambulances have a bright yellow interior filled with equipment and plastered with logos which can be overwhelming for mentally unwell individuals.

The new vehicles are expected to be smaller and more discreet with subtle paint jobs, fewer markings and smaller logos as well as space in the back to accommodate the friends and family of a mentally unwell individual receiving care.

They will have blue light capabilities but are designed to attract less attention once at the scene of an incident.

Fewer than five mental health ambulances are currently in use nationwide and were set up locally as part of trials which have proven successful.

Enhanced mental health training

One such pilot launched in Hull in 2021 and was staffed by a crew of paramedics with enhanced mental health training. The silver van was a Ford, did not have “ambulance” written on it and has a logo on the bonnet and doors.

The Government announced £150milion of funding for mental health services in June last year, with £7million earmarked for the mental health ambulance scheme.

It is understood that the success of pilots in Yorkshire and the East of England means all 11 ambulance trusts in the country will now get their own.

Currently, a 999 call for a mentally ill individual will see a normal ambulance dispatched and police are also sent if it is believed the mentally ill person is a threat to themselves or others.

The mental health ambulances have been developed in a collaboration of police forces and medical experts to offer more specialised care and provide a space where patients are safe and less likely to deteriorate.

It is also hoped that specialist care and a calmer environment will reduce the number of mental health patients sent to A&E departments.

More than 30 projects are set to receive funding from the Government’s £150 million mental health initiative, including more crisis centres and crisis cafes where people who have not been sectioned can go to prevent them needing to go to A&E.

More crisis centres

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “These dedicated facilities will ensure patients experiencing a mental health crisis receive the care they need in an appropriate way, whilst freeing up staff availability including within A&E departments.

“These schemes – along with the up to 100 new mental health ambulances – will give patients across the country greater access to high-quality, tailored support when needed the most.”

The announcement comes as ambulance workers and 999 call handlers in the West Midlands, North West, North East, East Midlands and Wales will go on strike on Monday.

Category one calls, which includes life-threatening issues such as cardiac arrests, will still be responded to by an ambulance.

The most serious of the category two calls, such as strokes, will also be tended, it is understood, but most conditions in categories two to four will not be covered.

Category three calls include late-stage labour and elderly patients who have had a fall while category four is less urgent cases, such as urine infections and back pain.