Mental health rated 'top priority' for 2016

Healthwatch England has identified five key areas health providers should focus on in the coming year 

Five priorities for health services to focus on in 2016 have been revealed by Healthwatch England and show mental health as the issue people are now most worried about.

The patients' champion  surveyed all of its 152 local branches and found more than half felt inadequate support for mental illness rated higher than difficulties getting a GP appointment.

Concerns range from lengthy waiting times for treatment after a mental health referral to a lack of community and crisis care.

Healthwatch also asked for suggestions on how to improve services and most recommended involving patients directly in decisions.

Among the ideas favoured would be allowing people to refer themselves rather than going through a GP to access mental health support and a greater focus in schools on educating young people about mental health issues.

Healthwatch chief executive Katherine Rake said: ‘As attitudes to mental health change and some of the stigma begins to fade away, health bosses need to use this opportunity to refocus services around helping people to identify and manage conditions earlier.

‘When we speak to people they say it is all about improving the flexibility to access more low-level support when and for as long as they need, not sticking to a one-size-fits-all approach of pre-set care packages.

‘Yet still too often we hear from those accessing mental health support and their families that they feel the clock is ticking and that if they are not ‘better’ by the end of their course of counselling they will be left to cope on their own.’

The other four areas identified were access to primary care services such as GPs and dentists; quality of social care services such as care homes; closer working between health and social services and improving hospital discharge rates.

Community and social care minister Alistair Burt responded to the list and said: ‘Mental health stigma is on the decline but there is more to do.

‘We have given the NHS more money than ever before for mental health, with an increase to £11.7 billion last year, and are introducing access and waiting time targets for the first time.

‘As well as providing care for those in crisis, it is right that we invest in helping people early on so they can avoid that crisis and manage their conditions at home rather than in hospital.’

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