One in four people who suffer from acute mental health problems in the UK are unable to get the help they need as community mental health services fall into a “damaging pattern of decline”, new research shows.
Damning findings by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) show that 26 per cent of people who have fallen into a mental health crisis in the past year said they didn’t feel they got the help they needed from care services — a decline since 2014, when the figure stood at 21 per cent.
The results of the latest annual survey of community mental healthcare also shows that a quarter of respondents reported they had not seen workers from their mental health services often enough to meet their needs in the last year – up from a fifth three years ago.
While the majority (71 per cent) said they knew who to contact when they experienced a mental health crisis out of hours, the number of respondents who felt listened to by their healthcare or social workers had fallen by 5 per cent since the last study.
National policy states that mental health crises should be treated with the same urgency as physical health crises. But the findings, based on a survey of more than 12,000 people who have received care or treatment for a mental health condition, reveal that a higher proportion of people who sought help in a crisis were dissatisfied with the help provided than last year.
In light of the findings, politicians and campaigners urged the Government to urgently halt the “damaging pattern of decline” in mental health services by increasing investment and committing to ring-fencing mental health budgets in the upcoming Autumn Budget.
Barbara Keeley MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health and Social Care, said in response to the findings: “Years of Tory under-funding of community mental health services are leading to patients reporting worsening experiences of treatment and greater difficulty in getting the help they need, when they need it.
“Mental health services are less responsive and care is becoming more disjointed because crucial funding is not reaching the front line. The Tory Government needs to act urgently to halt this damaging pattern of decline by increasing investment in mental health services and committing to ring-fence mental health budgets, as Labour pledged to do during the General Election.”
The Government has said repeatedly that it is investing £1bn extra in mental health services per year, but the charities and politicians warn this falls short of what is needed and is often failing to reach the frontline.
In a speech in January, the Prime Minister said that for too long, mental illness had been “a hidden injustice in our country”, and pledged to transform the way mental health problems are dealt with “right across society”.
But despite Ms May’s pledges, mental health services have warned they face mounting pressures over funding amid rising demand, with vulnerable people facing “agonising waits” for treatment, often causing their mental health to deteriorate further.
Dr Paul Lelliott, Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals and lead for mental health at the CQC, said it was "disappointing" that the results of the survey were not showing year-on-year improvements.
He added: “The finding that a higher proportion of people who sought help in a crisis were dissatisfied with the help provided is a particular concern.
"We expect providers to review their results very carefully. We will continue to use these findings to plan our inspections and will be looking carefully at the action plans that providers have developed in response to their local survey results.”
Mental health charities have already been warning about a worrying lack of improvement in services. Earlier this month, leading charities issued an open letter warning the Government to urgently address the “crisis” facing mental health services in the forthcoming Budget.
Almost a year on from Theresa May’s pledge to improve mental health support and ensure it has parity with physical health services, the letter accuses her of setting out “unambitious” targets, urging that services “cannot go on” with the current levels of funding.
In response to the CQC report, Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at Mind, said: “The care people with mental health problems receive in their communities is crucial to keeping them well, and reducing the risk of them needing more intensive and expensive care further down the line.
“For too long, we’ve seen little or no improvement in people’s experiences of care, with some areas actually getting worse
“We know that two thirds of people with a mental health problem don’t get any support from services at all, and this survey shows that even those who do don’t always get the help they need. Our mental health services are under immense pressure at the moment, and this report shows the stark scale of the challenge they face.”
Ms Nash added that the findings highlight the importance of investment in mental health services and urged that it is essential that the £1bn promised by 2020-2021 as part of the NHS and Government’s five-year plan for mental health services reaches the front line.
“After sustained underfunding, this £1bn is only the beginning – it will take decades of continued investment to ensure that everyone with a mental health problem gets the care they need, when they need it,” she said.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Mental health is a priority for this Government and we are determined to transform services so they work best for the patient. It's encouraging to see two thirds of respondents reported a positive experience of overall care, but we know there is still work to be done.
“That's why we're currently undergoing one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe, spending a record £11.6 billion on mental health this year, with a further investment of £1 billion by 2020/21."
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