The mental health charity, Mind, has responded to a recently published report by the National Audit Office regarding mental health provision in the UK. Its response finds a service in crisis and is failing those who need support the most.
What is the National Audit Office?
What does the report say?
The National Audit Office report highlights numerous issues faced by NHS mental health services, including workforce pressures and struggles to meet targets for young people’s eating disorder services.
Millions of people in England with mental ill-health are not seeking NHS help, and many who get it face long delays and a “poor experience,” the report says. Long waits for care will persist for years because soaring demand, exacerbated by Covid, will continue to outstrip the ability of severely understaffed mental health services to provide speedy treatment, the National Audit Office (NAO) found.
The spending watchdog praised NHS England for expanding the amount of care that patients with psychological conditions can access since 2016 as part of a government plan to give mental illness “parity of esteem” alongside physical conditions. It has expanded the workforce, introduced new services, treated growing numbers of people, and brought in new waiting time targets.
However, despite these moves, the NAO has found that “NHS mental health services are under continued and increasing pressure, and many people using services are reporting poor experiences.” Under-18s, the LGBT+ community, minority ethnic groups, and people with more complex needs are most likely to find the system inadequate.
While funding and the workforce for mental health services have increased and more people have been treated, many people still cannot access services or have lengthy waits for treatment, the NAO said.
The report findings
In its report, The NAO found –
- An estimated 8 million people with mental health needs are not in contact with NHS services.
- There are 1.2 million people waiting for help from community-based mental health services.
- While the mental health workforce grew by 22% between 2016-17 and 2021-22, the NHS recorded a 44% increase in referrals over the same period.
- In 2021-22, 13% of mental health staff – 17,000 people – quit.
The NHS has met new targets intended to ensure that more people access talking therapy and receive help when they have a first episode of psychosis. However, too many children and young people referred to an eating disorders service are waiting too long for help, the report says.
The NHS is meant to ensure that 95% of under-18s with a suspected eating disorder are seen within a week. But from April to June 2022, just 68% did so.
How has Mind responded?
In response to the NAO report, Mind has picked up on certain themes within the report that have caused it the most alarm. Its Head of Policy and Campaigns, Gedmma Byrne, said,
“Today’s NAO report makes it abundantly clear that, despite small improvements, mental health services are struggling. Bed occupancy levels are consistently unsafe, children are being cared for in the same wards as adults, and people are waiting for hours and even days in A&E for urgent mental health care. These are the signs of a collapsing mental health system.
“In addition, many people are reporting poor experiences of services – particularly young people, people from racialised communities, LGBT+ people and people with more complex needs. Mental health services should work for everyone, so no one is left behind. This requires the provision of culturally appropriate care.”
Mind states that it is incredibly concerned about workforce shortages and the lack of a long-term workforce strategy. It says that a workforce that can care for people effectively is an essential building block of any fit-for-purpose healthcare service. Current levels of staffing are unsafe both for those who need care and those who are giving it, according to the charity.
How does Mind sum up the prevailing situation?
According to Mind, the report is “right to highlight how historic underfunding is restricting the efforts of numerous NHS trusts and Integrated Care Boards across the country to improve mental health services. The gap between what funding is needed for even the most basic maintenance of estates and what’s actually being spent is growing every day.”
The charity goes on to opine that the “alarm bells have been ringing for a long time and that it is time the UK government paid attention to them.”
Mind concludes by stating that in order to tackle these issues, society needs to see bold political leadership and understanding of the scale of the country’s mental health emergency, including adequate funding for mental health services and a long-term, cross-government vision for the nation’s mental health.
What does the Government say?
In response to the report, the Government’s Department of Health and Social Care said,
“This report rightly acknowledges some of the extreme challenges faced by the NHS during the pandemic, and the impacts on patients, services, and staff. It also recognizes the progress made. Spending and workforce have increased, more patients are being treated, and good progress was made toward meeting targets before the pandemic.
“We are increasing investment in mental health services by over £2bn a year by 2024, and delivering 27,000 more mental health professionals, so 2 million more people will be able to get the mental health support they need.”
While the NAO report just published doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, it will help to shine a light on a service that is crumbling under the sheer weight of demand being placed upon it. With charitable organizations such as Mind contributing to the argument, it is hoped that further action will be taken by the Government to improve the status quo.
With the demand for mental health services rising exponentially, it will be crucial that the supply of support services be increased to meet that demand.
Without the availability of such services being increased while the need to access them continues to rise, we should all be concerned about the direction of travel that we in the UK are heading in when it comes to the general mental health of our society.
What do you think about the NAO report? Do you feel enough is being done to support mental health services in the UK? Let us know in the comments.