Investigating changes in mental health services utilisation in England and their impact on health outcomes and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic: Protocol for a health data-linkage study

Ge Yu*, Luke Vale, Peter McMeekin, Sheena E. Ramsay, Yu Fu

*Corresponding author for this work

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Introduction: Linking routinely collected health care system data records for the same individual across different services and over time has enormous potential for the NHS and its patients. The aims of this data linkage study are to quantify the changes to mental health services utilisation in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and determine whether these changes were associated with health-related outcomes and wellbeing among people living in the most deprived communities in North East and North Cumbria, England. Methods and analysis: We will assemble a retrospective cohort of people having referred or self-referred to NHS-funded mental health services or Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services between 23rd March 2019 and 22nd March 2020 in the most deprived areas in England. We will link together data from retrospective routinely collected healthcare data including local general practitioner (GP) practice data, Hospital Episode Statistics admitted patient care outpatients, and A&E, Community Services Data Set, Mental Health Services Data Set, and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Data Set. We will use these linked patient-level data to 1) describe the characteristics of the cohort prior to the lockdown; 2) investigate changes to mental health services utilised between multiple time periods of the COVID-19 lockdown including out of lockdown; 3) explore the relationship between these changes and health outcomes/wellbeing and factors that confound and mediate this relationship among this cohort. Strengths and limitations of this study: This study comprises a deprived population-based cohort of people having referred or self-referred to NHS-funded secondary mental health services or Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services over an extended period of the lockdown in England (2019–2022). This study will utilise a new longitudinal data resource that will link together detailed data from a cohort of individual participants and retrospective administrative data relating to the use of primary, secondary, and community care services. The study period covers pre-lockdown, different lockdown and post-lockdown, and out of lockdown periods up to March 2022. Routinely collected administrative data contain limited contextual information and represent an underestimate of total health outcomes for these individuals. Routinely collected datasets can often been incomplete or contain missing data, which can make it difficult to accurately analyse the data and draw meaningful conclusions. Intervention and treatment for mental health conditions are not wholly captured across these data sources and may impact health outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0283986
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2023

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