Welsh government urged to improve mental health care

The Welsh government needs to take urgent action to improve mental health services in Wales, assembly members have said.

The assembly’s health, wellbeing and local government committee made 28 recommendations for the devolved government, in a report on community mental health services, published today.

It noted that while there had been some improvements in recent years there was some way to go before services achieved consistently acceptable standards throughout Wales.

Service has lack of status

The committee acknowledged that mental health is often characterised as a “Cinderella service” due to its relative lack of status amongst other health and social care specialties.

It said the current restructuring of the NHS should be seen as an opportunity to redress this imbalance and afford mental health services a higher priority in the new NHS bodies. 

Under the Welsh government’s plans, the 22 local health boards, which commission services, and seven NHS trusts, which provide them, will be replaced by seven integrated health boards on 1 October.

The committee said it had concerns that in the new boards responsibility for mental health will be given to vice chairs and directors who will also have responsibility for primary and community health services.

Danger of neglect of mental health

It said: “There is a danger that these other services will be so demanding that mental health services will not get the attention they deserve – this must not be allowed to happen.”

The committee said resources needed for community mental health services should be identified, tracked and protected during the restructuring process.

It also called for “urgent action” to ensure that the 2005 adult mental health national service framework – the key mechanism for improving community mental health services – is fully implemented. It said its achievements had been “limited” so far.

Service quality variable

Committee chair Darren Millar said: “Our overall impression of these services is that they vary considerably in availability and quality.”

He added: “The committee felt that mental health services didn’t appear to be given the priority that the government claimed it would be.”

The report also questioned how well equipped primary care services – such as GP practices – were to act as first port of call for people with mental health problems, and called for improvements in the skills of primary care staff in this area.

It also raised concerns about access to services for people in rural Wales, and recommended that the government consider wider use of small local units to reduce the number of hospital admissions and allow short stays for people nearer to their homes.

Young people’s service proposed

Other key recommendations in the report included the establishment of a mental health service specifically for young people aged 17-25 that would facilitate a transition to adult services at an appropriate time for each young person.

An assembly government spokesman said that mental health accounted for the largest single area of NHS expenditure in Wales and that funding for core mental health services was ring-fenced.

He added that vice chairs and directors of community, primary care and mental health in the new health boards “would ensure that mental health has a strong focus in the new organisations”.

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