Healthcare Commission urges action on ageism in mental health

The Healthcare Commission today urged the government to use its forthcoming mental health strategy to tackle age discrimination, after finding older people were often denied equal access to services.

On the last day before its merger into the Care Quality Commission, the watchdog published a study of six mental health trusts which found a lack of appropriate provision for people aged over 65, and limited national data on the quality of specialist older people’s care.

The commission found out-of-hours and crisis services often only took referrals for people under 65 or for conditions other than dementia.

Substance misuse services geared towards younger men

Staff at several trusts said some older people had difficulty accessing substance misuse services, with much provision geared towards younger men in environments that were likely to make older people feel vulnerable.

Provision of psychological therapies for older people was poor in most of the trusts visited. One reported that in an audit of 1,300 referrals from GPs, only 49 were for people over 65.

Anti-discrimination policies

However, the commission also found that two trusts had made an effort to deliver services based on need rather than age, with anti-discriminatory policies embedded throughout the organisations. Of the other four, three had transition procedures in place for people transferring to older people’s services which were based on need not age.

The commission said the Department of Health needed to use its New Horizons strategy, due to replace the national service framework for mental health next year, to “steer the strategic direction” of mental health towards equal access.

It also called for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and others to develop models of care based on assessment of need rather than age.

Very concerned over dearth of data

The commission said it was “very concerned” that available data did not “provide a robust basis on which to compare the performance of different areas in meeting older people’s mental health needs”. It called for current data sets to be reviewed by the DH.

The report comes with the government due to outlaw unjustifiable age discrimination in the provision of services against older people in the forthcoming Equality Bill.

A study for the Department of Health last year found outlawing ageism in mental health would cost £2bn a year. However, concerns have been raised that the ban will be delayed in health and social care because a working group on the issue is not due to report until after the next election.

Devastating consequences

Responding to today’s report, Kate Jopling, head of public affairs at Help the Aged, said: “For older people with mental health problems who are being denied appropriate care and support, this [delay] will have devastating consequences. The government must work toward getting legislation in place sooner rather than later.”

Separately, the Healthcare Commission published a report today on community mental health services, which found almost half of users lacked access to an out-of-hours contact number.

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Help the Aged warns ministers not to ‘break pledge’ on ageism ban

Age Concern challenges GPs’ ageism over older people’s depression

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