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CQC report highlights failures in mental health crisis care
With improving mental health care high on the government’s agenda, new research recently published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) puts mental health under public scrutiny again.
The concerning review, which focuses on the experience of patients seeking help in a mental health crisis, identified a range of concerns including problems with bed availability and out of hours response units. A woefully low 14% of service users felt that they actually got the help that they needed when attempting to access mental health care, and with the data coming from a survey of 1,800 responders, the results seem hard to ignore.
Mind and body
The link between mental and physical health has long been acknowledged, although not perhaps given the recognition it deserves in practice. Whilst mental health problems can be the cause of medically unexplained physical symptoms, poor mental health has also been linked with an increased risk of conditions such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The benefits of good mental wellbeing are far reaching.
Unsurprisingly mental illness can also aggravate pre-existing physical conditions. Research published by The Kings Fund in 2012 estimated that the affect of poor mental health on physical illnesses is estimated to cost the NHS at least £8 billion a year:
Furthermore, destructive habits including alcohol/substance abuse, comfort eating and self harm are frequently a symptom of mental illness. These types of behaviours can lead to devastating life long physical conditions which the NHS spends huge amounts of money treating each year.
Common sense tells us that investing in mental health services is one of the long term solutions needed to improve the physical health of the nation.
Help in time of crisis
Unfortunately the CQC’s findings paint a bleak picture of crisis care in this country. It is not unusual for those seeking help for mental health issues to have been suffering in silence for a long time before they approach a professional. There is still a perceived stigma around mental illness and this can discourage people from coming forward to speak to their GP. However, once they have taken this brave step there are often long waiting lists for ‘talking treatments’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
A mental health crisis can occur at any time of the day and out of hours help lines can sometimes be inadequate. One patient describing his experience in the CQC report, wrote that he had to wait seven hours for any type of assistance when he called the Crisis Team and all he received after this long wait was a telephone appointment. Another female patient seeking crisis assistance describes how she was told to ‘do a crossword’ until services re-opened the next morning.
Poor out of hours services can mean that in times of crisis patients feel forced to turn to Accident and Emergency Departments. Whilst GPs, paramedics and members of the police force generally received positive feedback in the CQC report, fewer than four in ten respondents gave a positive response about their experience in A&E. Patients often stated that they felt judged and as though their concerns were not being taken seriously.
It is clear that there is still a gulf between the provision of services for physical health and mental health and with 1.8 million accessing mental health services last year alone, this is gap that desperately needs to be bridged.
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