NHS England will introduce national standards for access to mental health services from April 2015 as part of a bid to ensure “no one in crisis will be turned away” from services, the government has announced.
The commitment to introducing access standards is included in a refreshed mandate for the NHS in England published by the government this week. Amid evidence of widespread problems in the mental health crisis care system, the document concedes the NHS faces “a particular challenge” around crisis services and says the government expects NHS England and local commissioners to make “rapid progress” to address care shortfalls.
“We expect every community to have plans to ensure no one in crisis will be turned away, based on the principles set out in the soon to be published Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat”, the report said.
“Too often, access to services for people with mental health problems is more restricted and waiting times are longer than for other services, with no robust system of measurement in place even to quantify the scale of the problem. The Department of Health and NHS England are committed to ending this and believe that implementing new access and/or waiting time standards is vital in order to have true parity of esteem.”
National access standards are already in place for key parts of the NHS’s response to physical emergencies. For example, 95% of patients attending A&E departments are expected to be seen, treated and discharged within four hours.
Details of the mental health standards have yet to be announced but the refreshed mandate confirms that they will be introduced from April 2015, with a “phased approach depending on affordability”. Under the previous mandate issued by government NHS England was only committed to “consider” national standards for mental health.
Care minister Norman Lamb said that the refreshed mandate indicated “real progress on mental health”. On the social networking site Twitter, Lamb said:
@Davewwest Real progress on mental health in Mandate Refresh! At last, access standards in mental health, tackling institutional bias!
— Norman Lamb (@normanlamb) November 12, 2013
The minister previously admitted that levels of access to crisis care were “unacceptable” and must improve after a Community Care and BBC News investigation revealed major problems in the system. Staff at a mental health trust that serves the minister’s north Norfolk constituency have recently launched a grassroots campaign making allegations that cuts to their services are damaging care.
Read more on the crisis in mental health crisis care:
- Patients at risk as ‘unsafe’ mental health services reach crisis point
- 10 ways the beds crisis is impacting patients and professionals
- ‘The beds crisis makes me embarassed to work in mental health’: a social worker speaks out
- ‘I was in desperate need of help’: a patient’s experience