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The cost of separating mental and physical healthcare

There’s an interesting report out today from the King’s Fund about the costs (to patients and the NHS) of treating physical and mental health problems separately given the large number of people with long-term conditions who also have mental illnesses.

It finds 46% of people with mental health problems have a long-term condition and 30% of people with a long-term condition have a mental health problem, amounting to 4.6m people.

However, the report says: “A separation of mental and physical health is hard-wired into institutional arrangements, payment systems and professional training curricula. As a result, co-morbid mental health problems commonly go undetected among people with long-term conditions, and where problems are detected the support provided is often not effectively linked or co-ordinated with care provided for physical problems.”

The result is poorer patient outcomes and significant cost to the NHS and the wider economy. What’s worse is that people with these co-morbidities are disproportionately found in deprived areas, where they lack access to services and resources.

The report has some interesting ideas for bridging the gap:

  • Greater involvement of mental health specialists in primary care.
  • Much greater investment in liaison psychiatry services in acute hospitals to identify people with mental health problems.
  • Training for physical healthcare staff in basic mental healthcare.

There is less about the role of social care professionals in this report, beyond stating that they have a role to play, particularly in relation to people with dementia and long-term conditions.

It would be good for this to be fleshed out as social workers and other care professionals have a crucial role in identifying people with co-morbidities, taking a holistic view of their condition and co-ordinating their support. Hopefully, this is something that can be addressed.

Mithran Samuel

About Mithran Samuel

Mithran Samuel is adults' editor at Community Care.

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