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NHS England reveal new mental health access standards

NHS England will introduce five new waiting time guarantees, under new standards released today. It aims to help improve patient access to mental health services, making sure that patients of all ages - requiring urgent care - receive support by community mental health crisis teams, within 24 hours of a referral. Under the new proposals, those in need of the most urgent care will get help within four hours.

Mental health liaison services will also be set up for patients in A&E departments, which will be rolled out to the remaining sites across the country. The patients referred from A&E will be seen face to face within one hour, by someone from the mental health liaison or children and young people ‘s equivalent service.

The NHS are currently consulting on the new standards. Children, young people and their families/carers arriving at community-based mental health services, should receive care within four weeks from referral.

Adults and older adults presenting to community-based mental health services, should start to receive help within four weeks from referral.

NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, said: “Together with the guarantee that mental health investment will increase each year as a share of the growing NHS budget – as has been the case each year since 2015 – these new waiting times standards are another key milestone in the journey to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health, so-called ‘parity of esteem’.”

Claire Murdoch, the NHS’s National Mental Health Director, said: “These new standards represent another major step towards parity of esteem, ensuring people who need care know when they can expect to receive it and will support more rapid access to evidence-based treatment and support.

“They will help with work already underway with the NHS turning the tide in mental health for a range of conditions as part of the Long Term Plan.

“This includes thousands of women benefitting from specialist perinatal mental health care last year, and improvements to our children and young people’s services, meaning more children and young people are accessing treatment than ever before, including timely, evidence-based care for eating disorders.”

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The new standards have already been piloted in collaboration with acute NHS trusts, and mental health providers, which are supported by clinical and patient representatives.

Mark Winstanley, the Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “These standards act as building blocks on which we can build a potentially first-class model of mental health care and recognise the universal truth, that the quicker we can step in to provide high quality treatment, close to home for someone living with mental illness, the more we improve prospects of recovery.

“While they will depend on the right staff being in post, they will also set the bar for something similar in social care, where so much of someone’s support for their mental illness actually takes place.”

It forms part of overall service expansion and improvements for mental health, outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan. The government have also made investments in mental health services (detailed in their action plan) which is backed by £500m. Other initiatives – set out in the NHS Long Term Plan - include spending £2.3bn a year, to help 2 million more people access mental health services by 2023/24.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “These proposed new standards for community and liaison mental health services are an important step to delivering parity of esteem for mental illness.

“Access standards can make a real difference for patients by providing a clear set of priorities for services and commissioners.

“Improving care for our patients so they’re seen quickly and close to home is key to their recovery. We look forward to engaging with the consultation to ensure that these standards are introduced in the most effective and clinically appropriate way.”

Responses can be submitted through the consultation form on the NHS England website or via email to [email protected]. The consultation period will run from 21 July to 1 September 2021.

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