Mental health is the largest area of concern within the NHS, with lengthy waiting times and a lack of understanding from GPs in need of the most improvement, it has been revealed.
Poor treatment and too little support for those with mental illness is the public's main frustration with the NHS, Healthwatch England's research shows.
Healthwatch England's 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.”
Suggestions put forward by the public included:
- Enabling people to ‘self-refer’ rather than having to go through a GP to access mental health support.
- Offering in-house counselling services through GP surgeries so that there is greater collaboration to promote physical and mental wellbeing.
- Working with family doctors to ensure staff are better trained to recognise mental health problems early and help people reach support.
- Greater focus in schools to educate young people about mental health and the support out there to help avoid problems developing.
- Better use of peer support arrangements – to call on the experiences of past patients to help others dealing with similar mental health challenges.
Community and Social Care Minister, Alistair Burt, said that the NHS has been given "more money than ever before for mental health", but there is still "more to do".
He said: "NHS England’s Mental Health Taskforce will report early in 2016 and the Department will look at a range of services for ensuring continued progress towards our commitment to parity of esteem.
"The additional £600 million over five years will support the development of this as part of the Government’s £10 billion commitment to the NHS.
“Investing an additional £600 million in mental health services will mean that significantly more people will have access to talking therapies every year by 2020 and the government will work to set out transformative plans.
“We have made great strides in the way that we think about and treat mental health in this country. 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.”
The list of priorities for 2016 were:
1. Mental health services
2. Primary care services
3. Social care services
4. Services working better together
5. Hospital discharge
Last year, the top priority was improving access to primary care services - namely, getting a GP appointment.