NHS plan to over­haul men­tal health sup­port

The Observer - - News - Michael Sav­age & De­nis Camp­bell

New wait­ing-time tar­gets for men­tal health treat­ment and stronger sup­port for young adults with dif­fi­cul­ties will be an im­por­tant part of the gov­ern­ment’s long-awaited 10-year NHS plan to be launched to­mor­row.

“Com­pre­hen­sive ac­cess stan­dards” for men­tal health will be in­tro­duced for the first time, in an ef­fort to close the gap be­tween phys­i­cal and men­tal health treat­ment. Wait­ing-time tar­gets are well es­tab­lished for A&E treat­ment, surgery and can­cer care.

The plan will in­clude an ex­tra £2.3bn to pay for talk­ing ther­a­pies for an ad­di­tional 350,000 young peo­ple and 380,000 adults over the next five years. An around-the-clock helpline will even­tu­ally be es­tab­lished. Young peo­ple will no longer be forced to restart their treat­ment with adult ser­vices when they turn 18.

The plan will also over­haul ma­ter­nity care and im­prove staffing lev­els. It in­volves spend­ing an ex­tra £20.5bn on the NHS by 2023-24 and has raised con­cerns in­side the Trea­sury. But Down­ing Street hopes it will demon­strate that the gov­ern­ment still has a do­mes­tic agenda out­side Brexit. Theresa May said the strat­egy would achieve “a sig­nif­i­cant part of our am­bi­tion to de­liver true par­ity be­tween phys­i­cal and men­tal health”.

“We have al­ready done a lot to end the stigma that peo­ple with men­tal health face and make sure they can reach out for help, and this ex­pan­sion, part of our long-term plan for the NHS, will make a real dif­fer­ence.”

Labour says that al­most a sixth of un­der-16s in Eng­land who suf­fer a men­tal health cri­sis are forced to wait more than four hours in A&E. The num­ber is three times higher than it was in 2014, ac­cord­ing to data from a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest.

May said in June that a long-term plan would be drawn up, just af­ter she an­nounced a large spend­ing in­crease to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the health ser­vice.

Si­mon Stevens, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of NHS Eng­land, was given an am­bi­tious brief to use the money to equip the health ser­vice to cope with the de­mands of an age­ing pop­u­la­tion as it suf­fers a staffing cri­sis across al­most all spe­cial­ties.

Stevens was told that the plan must show how wait­ing times could be put back on track in ar­eas such as A&E, can­cer care and planned op­er­a­tions; stop hos­pi­tal trusts ending up in the red; solve un­der-staffing; de­liver the long-promised in­te­gra­tion of health and so­cial care; im­prove pre­ven­tive care; push through un­prece­dented im­prove­ments in men­tal health care; and em­brace tech­nol­ogy and spread best prac­tice.

The Cen­tre for Men­tal Health, a char­ity, said the mea­sures would help “scale up the level of sup­port of­fered to peo­ple with men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties”. It added: “The gov­ern­ment must now also step up and in­vest in pub­lic health, so­cial care, early years and youth ser­vices if it is se­ri­ous about achiev­ing par­ity for men­tal health.”

Dave Mun­day, chair of the Men­tal Health Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion, said: “Along­side wait­ing-time stan­dards there must be safe staffing stan­dards in men­tal health ser­vices. What­ever money is put into the NHS through the long-term plan, it must also be weighed against the mil­lions that have been cut.

“With the dou­ble-digit per­cent­age cuts to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, we’ve seen ser­vices that have sup­ported peo­ple with men­tal ill health erased.”

Si­mon Stevens, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of NHS Eng­land, was asked to get key wait­ing times back on track.

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