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Mental health still has ‘long way to go’ before solid progress shows

NHS Providers has welcomed a briefing from the Centre for Mental Health and the NHS Benchmarking Network, arguing that it uses robust evidence to shed a light on the challenges faced by staff on the frontline – such as a “potent mix of rising demand with increased numbers of inpatients”.

The document, ‘Adult and older mental health services 2012-2016’, which analyses data collected by NHS Benchmarking between 2012 and 2016, shows the highest bed occupancy of all NHS specialties.

The past four years have shown a reduction in beds in adult acute services, although that trend seems to have slowed, with a marginal increase in beds in the last year.

However, reductions in beds in other specialties, such as older adult, and complex and continuing care, have continued. Patient acuity is high, with ongoing high demand from patients with psychosis.

The use of the Mental Health Act has increased year on year, and detention rates in adults are a third higher than they were in the 2012. The average length of stay has increased for most types of bed, although the bulk of care is delivered in the community – with 97% of those under specialist mental health services being managed by the community at any one time.

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said of the report: “It reveals a potent mix of rising demand, with increased numbers of inpatients and bed occupancy running at more than 100%, at a time of worrying gaps in the workforce and reduced community support.

“This reinforces the messages from our recent report, The State of the NHS Provider Sector, which focused on the growing pressures on mental health services. It also revealed deep concerns that money earmarked for mental health was not reaching the front line.

“We recognise the progress that has been made in highlighting the stigma of mental ill health and the priority it has been given within the NHS.”

Cordery also argued that there is still “a long way to go until this has the desired impact up and down the country” and recommended that the health sector does not underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead.

The CEO of the Centre for Mental Health, Sarah Hughes, added: “While reductions in bed numbers continue a long-term shift from hospital to community care, any reductions in community services are a major cause for concern. It is simply not sustainable to keep cutting community services at the same time as reducing bed numbers.

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health in England sets out a clear ambition to improve community mental health services and increase investment in mental health care across the spectrum. Today’s report shows that this is a vital mission.”

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