The NHS has set out plans for people with mental health needs to be seen, diagnosed and treated much more quickly.
The pandemic has put NHS and community mental health services under intense pressure, and has meant waits for diagnosis and treatment have soared for many, potentially leaving those of working age off work for long periods of time.
If achieved, the new standards, part of the NHS Long Term Plan, would mean patients of all ages with an urgent mental health need being seen by community crisis teams within 24 hours.
People with mental health needs in the community would receive help within four weeks for non-urgent treatment, the standards add.
Those who present to A&E with mental health needs should have a face-to-face assessment by specialist mental health liaison teams within one hour of being referred by an emergency department, according to the standards.
The proposed ‘bundle’ of standards includes:
- For an ‘urgent’ presentation to community-based mental health crisis services, patients should be seen within 24 hours of referral, or within 4 hours for those triaged as ‘very urgent’.
- Adults and older adults accessing community-based services for non-urgent mental healthcare should start to receive help within four weeks of referral.
- Children, young people and their families/carers presenting to community-based mental health services for non-urgent care should start to receive help within four weeks of referral – this may involve immediate advice, support or a brief intervention, help to access another more appropriate service, the start of a longer-term intervention or agreement about a patient care plan, or the start of a specialist assessment that may take longer.
The NHS has said it will now work with the government and others to work out how these ambitions can be achieved as quickly as possible for patients, ahead of the likely introduction of formal performance thresholds in the future.
Mental health and work
NHS national mental health director Claire Murdoch said the new standards had received the thumbs-up from the public when put out to consultation last year.
“The proposed new standards are good news for patients and if agreed will ensure they get timely access to mental health services, when they need them most,” she said.
“The national consultation showed widespread support for these measures from charities, stakeholders and NHS staff, with eight in ten people backing the proposed new standards, which will ensure patients who need care know when they can expect to receive it and will support more rapid access to treatment and support,” she added.