by Alex Turner
Thousands of mental health staff across England – including, potentially social workers – will be asked to carry out lifestyle MOTs on patients in a bid to tackle early deaths from common conditions.
Many of the 300,000 people in England with serious mental health (SMI) conditions die from illnessess such as cardiovascular, lung and liver disease.
But their life expectancy is often 15 years shorter than members of the general population who die from the same conditions – often because individuals don’t access healthcare. NHS England says that introducing checks when people are admitted to hospital is crucial to addressing this.
Mental health trusts are to be paid for evaluating factors such as smoking, diet, weight, and blood pressure and glucose levels – and for ensuring that any illnesses identified are treated.
Social workers are on the list of professionals who could be asked to carry out the MOTs, but NHS England told Community Care it would be up to individual trusts to implement responsibilities among their staff.
Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, welcomed NHS England’s interest in the welfare of people with long term mental health issues, but stressed frontline mental health and social care staff’s hard work towards ensuring service users’ access to physical health.
“Practitioners in primary care, including GPs, have a responsibility to ensure their services, and physical health services they commission, are sensitive to this disadvantaged group – and NHS England need to ensure this happens,” he said.
“We need to make sure we’re incentivising the right people. Health and social care staff understand and live with the frustration of seeing the daily inequity of access; we need GPs and general hospital services to make changes,” he continued. “This should be the green light to staff in health and social care to demand a better deal for their client group and boldly advocate for parity of access.”
Mark Winstanley, CEO of charity Rethink Mental Illness, said:
“Our recent report, Lethal Discrimination, highlighted how 30,000 people with mental health problems are dying needlessly every year in England, due to preventable physical illness. It’s one of the biggest hidden health scandals of our time, so to see it prioritised in this way is a significant step forward.
“While there are pockets of good practice in the system, most people with mental illness are being badly let down when it comes to their physical health,” he added. “With these new incentives in place, we hope clinicians and commissioners across the country tackle the problem, which will mean improved health and longer lives for thousands of people.”