Mental health services are to get an £120m funding boost and, in a first for the sector, waiting time targets for patients accessing care, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has announced.
The move will see £40m invested in this financial year, including £7m on beds for children’s mental health services and £33m for early intervention in psychosis services. An extra £80m will be spent in 2015-16, including investment in liaison psychiatry services in acute hospitals to ensure that people presenting at A&E departments with mental health crises get appropriate help.
The waiting times targets will require services to ensure that 75 per cent of people referred for talking therapies will start their treatment within six weeks and 95 per cent within 18 weeks; and at least 50 per cent of people going through their first episode of psychosis get help within two weeks of being referred. The standards will be introduced from next April.
The Liberal Democrat leader unveiled the moves ahead of his speech to the party’s conference in Glasgow. In his speech, Clegg is expected to outline a ‘five year plan’ to improve mental health care and close the gap between the standards of care people receive for physical and mental health problems.
The deputy prime minister said: “It’s wrong that relatives and friends needing a hip operation can expect treatment within a clear timeframe but someone with a debilitating mental health condition has no clarity about when they will get help.
“For years, NHS waiting standards have existed for patients with physical ailments and they have drastically cut long waits. Now we are finally ending the injustice of people with mental health conditions waiting far too long for treatment with the first ever waiting time standards for NHS mental health services.”
The announcement was welcomed by mental health charities and professional bodies.
Paul Farmer, chief executive at Mind, said: “This is a landmark moment for mental health. Today’s announcement not only acknowledges the unfair imbalance that has long existed between physical and mental health services, it is the first clear commitment from Government to take the practical steps needed to tackle it.
“Over recent years we have heard fine words from the Department of Health and NHS England about finally treating mental health with the same importance we give physical health but, in the face of cuts to services, the reality has been that the gap has widened and services have failed thousands. It’s good to see some additional funding committed in this plan.”
Sean Duggan, chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health, said: “This is a vital step towards creating parity of access to mental health care and to overcoming the ‘institutional bias’ in the NHS. The provision of additional funding to invest in crisis care and early intervention should help to overcome the current postcode lottery in access to these essential health services.”