RCN calls for improved access to mental healthcare services

College’s report urges action to increase life expectancy for those with mental illness

Access to mental healthcare services is still not equal to that for physical healthcare, according to nurses who cite staffing levels as a significant barrier.

People with serious mental illnesses die between 15 and 20 years earlier than the UK average.
Picture: iStock

Findings from an RCN survey were released today as the college hosts an event to launch a nationwide ‘Charter for Equal Health’, which aims to increase life expectancy for people with severe mental illness.

A total of 566 nurses working in mental health settings in the UK responded to the RCN’s survey on ‘parity of esteem’, with 57% considering that equality between mental and physical healthcare services still had not been achieved.

In 2013, the government in England promised to ensure that people with mental health problems had the same access to treatment as those with physical ill health, and that their conditions would not prevent the NHS spotting and treating any physical issues they might have.

Health departments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have made similar pledges in the past five years. 

According to the Centre for Mental Health, there is long-standing evidence of the impact of mental illness on people’s physical health. For example, people with serious mental illnesses such as psychosis or bipolar disorder die between 15 and 20 years earlier than the UK average.

Backed by more than 50 health and care organisations, the ‘Charter for Equal Health’ invites supporters to make pledges for action they will take to improve physical health support for people with severe mental illness.

RCN programme lead for parity of esteem Tim Coupland said there needed to be a more coordinated approach across the NHS to ensure faster progress on the issue.

He said: ‘It’s not only a tragedy that people with mental illness die so much earlier than the general population, it’s also scandalous in a modern health service that we still have so far to go.

‘The college and all nurses, not just those working in mental health, are determined to work with others to increase life expectancy for those with mental illness.

Top three factors that nurses say would help achieve parity of esteem

  • Increased funding for mental healthcare
  • Ensuring safe staffing of services
  • Improved commissioning of services – for example, setting up specialist clinics to help people with mental illness lose weight or stop smoking

Source: Parity of Esteem: Report of the Spring 2018 RCN survey of mental health professionals

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