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expert reaction to Nick Clegg’s mental health waiting targets

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has announced funding for the establishment of waiting time targets for patients suffering from mental health problems.

 

Prof Peter Jones, Head of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, said:

“This is a very important step in putting mental and physical health care on an equal footing. Health economies will no longer be able to achieve waiting time targets in the acute sector at the expense of good mental health services. This benefits everyone because of the clear and obvious links between physical and mental health that are often unrecognised by current services.

“Parity of esteem requires the understanding that patients of acute hospital trusts and mental health services are, in many cases, the same people; commissioners and providers seem to have forgotten what’s hidden in plain sight.”

 

Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, President-Elect of the British Psychological Society, said:

“This announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister is a major step towards achieving parity of esteem for mental health conditions. The introduction of a waiting times target clearly shows the increasing recognition of the need for timely interventions for those with psychological health problems. I am pleased to see the pledge to extend this commitment on targets for conditions including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, in the next parliament.”

 

Cynthia Joyce, CEO, MQ: Transforming Mental Health, said:

“The Government’s Five-Year plan sends a clear signal to the NHS that parity of access to mental health care must be a priority moving forward.  Mental health waiting standards have the potential to be a major driver in improving access to potentially life-changing mental health services. The fact that these are matched with additional funding for evidence-based care, like early intervention services, will be vital in delivering better outcomes. We look forward to working with colleagues to ensure the ambitions set out today become a reality.

“But a focus on access to services alone is not enough. We know that current treatments, like psychological therapies, still don’t work for everyone.  This is why, building on today’s important announcement, we also need significant investment in mental health research. This will enable us to improve on what works already and develop even better personalised treatments for even more people in the UK.”

 

Prof Max Birchwood, Professor of Youth Mental Health, University of Warwick, said:

“Psychosis is the most debilitating of the mental health problems and we now understand that early treatment at the first episode has a decisive impact on the course of the illness.

“We have pioneered the development of early intervention in psychosis services which are now recommended by NICE. However, our research has shown that the average delay in accessing these services and treatment is over a year and that the majority of this occurs once individuals access the mental health system; this is because young people find services stigmatising and disengage before they get to the specialised early intervention service.

“Our research, led by Warwick University and CLAHRC-west midlands in Birmingham, shows that treatment needs to be given within 2 weeks following entry into services to reduce the overall impact of delay and that direct access to these services is crucial.

“One way of overcoming stigma is to use a youth specific access pathway which we have shown can improve engagement of young people and reduce treatment delay. This new wait time target is crucial and parity with cancer is overdue. We have supported the Department of Health in developing this policy initiative.”

 

Jenny Edwards, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation, said:

“We welcome the new five-year plan to invest to ensure that people have better access to help for their mental health when they need it, with clear waiting time standards. We have been working together with other mental health charities to lobby for these much needed changes. Extending access to talking therapies makes clear sense when so many people could benefit and cut the risk of losing their job when ill health strikes.

“Early intervention is vitally important to prevent more serious mental health problems down the line. In particular, we are encouraged that money is being freed up immediately to offer better access to mental health services for early intervention in psychosis, ensure liaison psychiatrists are available when people arrive in hospital in crisis and by the focus on the desperate need to improve services for children and young people, given that 75% of mental health problems develop before someone reaches 18.

“These are important early steps on the path to achieving parity of esteem between our mental and physical health and recognition that they are closely intertwined. We in the voluntary sector will work in partnership with government, local government and health to ensure these changes happen to the benefit of people in every area.”

 

Declared interests

None declared

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