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, which explores service users, carers and practitioners of remote access mental healthcare during first months of Covid-19.

Read our second peer reviewed paper from this work, which explores mental health practitioner experiences of providing support during first months of Covid-19.

Read our third and final paper from the study, which looks at access & candidacy for secondary services mental healthcare services.


Mental healthcare and Covid: “At a time when services were needed most, the onus was on us to find other ways to access support”

Why is this project important?

Secondary mental healthcare typically offers continued access to treatment and support. Changes following the introduction of lockdown measures meant 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.  

As we move through the pandemic attention is turning to what we can learn from these experiences. This research seeks to offer useful insights drawing on views of mental health service users, carers and practitioners.  

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 to both project 1 (interview study) and project 2 (Delphi survey).

Ten people with lived experience of using mental health services or caring for someone with mental health difficulties are advisers on the project, including young people. 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 first study was 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.

For the Delphi study we are also project partners helping to develop all the study materials including the survey tool, which has been piloted with lived experience advisors and the design, recruitment, analysis and write-up includes a peer researcher.

What is the current status of the project? 

We have completed phase one of the study and peer review papers have been published.

The second phase of the study is currently ongoing with researchers from THIS Institute and McPin, along with the advisory group. This is a Delphi survey to establish what ‘good’ looks like for remote access mental health care, acknowledging both the importance of face-to-face and the potential for more remote provision in the future. It should launch early June 2021.

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 Vanessa on