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

Photo by Marianne Bos. Three arrows in circles pointing in different directions painted on a concrete wall

What is this project?

McPin are working with The Healthcare Improvement Studies (THIS) Institute on a study exploring people’s experiences of accessing and providing secondary mental healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic. The study is funded by THIS Institute and led by Professor Peter Jones from the Department of Psychiatry (University of Cambridge).

Much has been written about mental health during the pandemic, but this qualitative study has a specific focus: to understand how the pandemic has affected experiences of accessing and providing secondary mental health support, and to identify principles for good practice.

The study began with a consultation with an expert panel of service users and carers to refine the project aims and approach. It was decided that interviews would be conducted with service users and carers to examine their perspectives on deciding to seek NHS mental health support, and with NHS staff to understand the ethical dilemmas and the challenges in provision of care staff faced during the Covid-19 crisis.

Read our first peer reviewed paper from this work here.

Why is this project important?

Secondary mental healthcare typically offers continued access to treatment and support. Changes following the introduction of lockdown measures meant that these services had to adapt quickly. Difficult decisions about prioritisation of care and changes to the way inpatient and community services could operate had to be balanced with multiple priorities, including individual needs and attempts to contain Covid-19 infections.  

How are McPin and people with lived experience of mental health problems involved in the project?

McPin helped to recruit both the study advisers and the study participants. Six people with lived experience of using mental health services or caring for someone with mental health difficulties are advisers on the project. By attending meetings with the researchers they helped to shape the project in the beginning, ensuring that the research questions were relevant to service users and carers, and the methods proposed were appropriate. The study has been conducted using peer research methods: all the service user interviews were conducted by a McPin researcher drawing on their own experiences of accessing mental health services. The peer researcher also worked with the THIS Institute team on the analysis and write up of the findings.

What is the current status of the project? 

Recruitment has closed for phase one of the study and all the interviews are complete. We are now at work to summarise the main findings from the interviews. The second phase of the study is currently in planning with researchers from THIS Institute and McPin, along with the advisory group.

Where can I find more information?

The report will be published on THIS Institute’s website and we will post an update here.

For further queries about service user involvement, please contact Jennie Parker by email: or by phone: 0207 922 7874.