In the last few years, the NHS has seen a paradigm shift in attitudes towards mental health, with awareness rising that the way in which mental conditions are currently treated is in sore need of modernisation.
Historically speaking, the medical field has found mental ailments harder to diagnose and treat than physical conditions, leading to a relative shortfall in the quality of treatment patients receive. However, this is a state of affairs that the Department of Health is now committing significant resources to correcting.
This month, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced a series of new laws and regulations that will lead to significant improvements in this field, introducing additional responsibilities for healthcare staff and potentially shining the spotlight on the need for additional nursing recruitment efforts.
From April 2015 onwards, the first ever waiting time standards for mental health treatment will be launched, ensuring that 75 per cent of people referred for talking therapies for treatment of common mental health problems like depression and anxiety will start their treatment within six weeks. This target rises to 95 per cent for treatment starting within 18 weeks.
Efforts will also be made to make sure at least 50 per cent of people experiencing their first episode of psychosis will receive the help they need within two weeks of being referred, bringing it into line with consultations for cancer. The aim will be to increase this percentage in subsequent years, with the expectation of greatly improving chances of recovery, while potentially saving £44 million each year in hospital admissions.
Additionally, the government has announced a funding allocation of £120 million to further improve mental health services in various ways over the next two years, including investment in psychiatry services in acute hospitals, plus a £7 million investment by NHS England to create 50 new in-patient beds for children and young people and offer enhanced case management.
All of this comes as part of wider plans to ensure the NHS treats mental health issues as an equally high priority as physical health concerns. Among the previously announced measures to achieve this are a renewed focus on talking therapies, an extension of the personal health budgets scheme and a new guarantee that every person with a serious mental health problem will have a named clinician to coordinate their care.
Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive, said: "This is an important moment when we will bring parity of esteem for mental health services a step closer. Putting access and waiting standards in place across all mental health services, and delivering better integration of physical and mental health care by 2020, will bring us much closer towards that aim."
Responding to these announcements, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) observed that they must be accompanied by an increase in specialist mental health nursing recruitment, as well as a greater recognition of the association between poor mental health and an increased risk of physical deterioration.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: "Mental health problems, left untreated, can blight the lives of individuals and families but, as with physical health, expert intervention make a huge difference."
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