Mental health care is public’s top NHS concern

Mental health has become the area of NHS and social care the public want improved the most, with lengthy waiting times and a lack of understanding from GPs topping the list of changes needed, it has been revealed.

Inadequate support for people with mental illness has replaced the difficulty of getting a GP appointment as the public’s main frustration with the NHS, research by Healthwatch England shows.

Healthwatch England’s Chief Executive, Katherine Rake, said: “As attitudes to mental health change and some of the stigma begins to fade away, health bosses need to use this opportunity to refocus services around helping people to identify and manage conditions earlier.

“When we speak to people they say it is all about improving the flexibility to access more low level support when and for as long as they need, not sticking to a one-size-fits-all approach of pre-set care packages.”

Healthwatch branches act as local patient champions, investigating complaints about NHS care and advising people where to go to get the best care.

Members of the public were asked for their opinions. Suggestions put forward by the public included:

  • Enabling people to ‘self-refer’ rather than having to go through a GP to access mental health support.
  • Offering in-house counselling services through GP surgeries so that there is greater collaboration to promote physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Working with family doctors to ensure staff are better trained to recognise mental health problems early and help people reach support.
  • Greater focus in schools to educate young people about mental health and the support out there to help avoid problems developing.
  • Better use of peer support arrangements – to call on the experiences of past patients to help others dealing with similar mental health challenges.

Community and Social Care Minister, Alistair Burt, said that the NHS has been given “more money than ever before for mental health”, but there is still “more to do”.

He said: “NHS England’s Mental Health Taskforce will report early in 2016 and the Department will look at a range of services for ensuring continued progress towards our commitment to parity of esteem.

“We have made great strides in the way that we think about and treat mental health in this country. As well as providing care for those in crisis, it is right that we invest in helping people early on so they can avoid that crisis and manage their conditions at home rather than in hospital.”

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