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NHS mental health care : will Cinderella go to the ball?


    Lucy Crawford, Solicitor, considers the recent recommendations for the future of NHS mental health services in England and whether these will lead to improvements for patients needing mental health care.

    By Lucy Crawford

Mental health has often been seen as the “Cinderella” of the NHS.  With the need for services increasing year on year, it has become neglected, under-funded and put simply, has not been invited to the ball, and I have written about these issues previously.

Last week, the independent Mental Health Taskforce (NHS England) published its long awaited report detailing the aims and commitments for transforming NHS mental health services over the next 10 years.  With so many news stories recently about falling budgets and reduced services, how are we going to ensure that this hugely important part of our NHS is protected and supported?

What was the Mental Health Taskforce looking at?

The paper entitled “The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health” provides a single approach for dealing with mental health services across the board.  It delivers a scathing verdict on the state of care and highlights keys area to improve including rising suicides, long waiting list, bed shortages and services for new mothers.   The Taskforce acknowledges the difficulties faced with the current services and pledges an additional £1billion a year.

The figures speak for themselves. Currently less than a tenth of the overall NHS budget is spent on mental health services.  This is despite 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem.  This imbalance is not sustainable and I hope that this paper will bring to the forefront the big debate about improving mental health.

What are the Recommendations?

The report sets out a total of 58 recommendations to improve the current level of care.  With the additional funding we should see:

  • 600,000 more adults with anxiety and depression be given access to evidence based psychological therapies;
  • 70,000 more children and young adults will be able to access high quality mental health care when they require it;
  • 30,000 more women each year should have access to evidence-based specialist mental health care during the perinatal period;
  • 29,000 more people living with mental health problems should be supported to find or stay in work through increasing access to psychological therapies;
  • Investment to increase access to psychological therapies for people with psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorder;
  • 24/7 community-based crisis services available in every area, including “adequately resourced” crisis teams;
  • An end to the practice of sending patients out of area for beds;
  • Liaison psychiatry services available in every A&E department;
  • Equal access to people from black and ethnic minorities to good quality mental health care.

The Future?

It is my opinion that this paper has highlighted some of the key failings to date and has delivered a clear message about where we need to be in 10 years time.  I do however have some doubts about the practicality of carrying out these proposals as well as their affordability.

Care for mental health is jointly delivered by community services and the NHS.  Cuts to local authority budgets may place a number of these key improvements at risk and only time will tell if they can be achieved.

It is about time that mental health was given an equal footing to physical health needs. Unseen conditions, such as mental health, all too frequently go unnoticed and under treated and this can cause significant and long term consequences for those patients who do not receive the treatment when they need it.   Huge improvements need to be made before this will happen.


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