What The NHS Long-Term Plan Means For Accessing Mental Health Care

We read all 136 pages so you don't have to.

The NHS has revealed its long-term plan, setting out how it hopes to improve health care across England in the next five to 10 years.

A substantial chunk of the plan focuses on how mental health services will be improved between now and 2029, by improving waiting times, providing a universal helpline for those in crisis, and investing money into services supporting children and young people.

The plan has been applauded by mental health charities – Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said he’s delighted that mental health is being prioritised. “For all those people who are severely affected by mental illness we now have the prospect of getting access to good quality treatment, quickly, near home for the first time,” he said.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said if the plan is implemented it could make a difference to the lives of thousands of people.

It’s important to note that it’s only a plan, therefore there’s every chance some of these targets might not be met. So what has the 136-page plan actually set out to achieve? We went through it, so you don’t have to.

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More Money For Services

In five years, at least £2.3bn a year will be ring-fenced with a view to expanding mental health services to offer adults, young people and children faster access to community and crisis mental health services.

It’s worth noting that in total, community health services, mental health and primary care costs the NHS around £27bn a year, so the allocation for mental health is just less than 10%.

Helping Young People

The plan has a particular emphasis on helping children and young people get the support and treatment they need – the plan suggests funding for children and young people’s services will grow faster than the total mental health spending.

Emma Thomas, chief executive of YoungMinds, said the investment is vital and long overdue: “Right now, more than a million young people have a diagnosable mental health problem, and the vast majority aren’t able to access mental health support from the NHS.” The NHS staffing (or lack of) needs to be properly addressed and funding needs to reach frontline services, she added.

The current structure of mental health services often creates gaps for young people transitioning to adult mental health services when they turn 18. The plan suggests a new model which will see continued support offered to people until they are 25. “This is all about ensuring there won’t be a ‘cliff edge’ of support for people as soon as they hit 18 and suddenly have to be transferred to adult services which tend to be very different,” Lucy Schonegevel, head of health influencing at Rethink Mental Illness, told HuffPost UK.

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Community-based mental health services for kids are set to receive significant investment. By 2023/24, at least 345,000 more children and young people aged 0-25 years old will be able to access support via the NHS and school or college-based Mental Health Support Teams. Teams will be trained to help support young people more likely to face mental health issues, such as LGBT+ individuals or children in care.

Improved Access To Therapy

For adults, more emphasis will be placed on providing the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, with a view to helping an additional 380,000 adults by 2023/24. More than 900,000 people in England now access IAPT services each year for adult anxiety disorders and depression.

The plan also focuses on prevention, with ramped up support for people to manage their own health and wellbeing – this includes apps and online resources to support good mental health and enable recovery.

Reducing Inequality

There’s a focus to reduce health inequalities in care across England. In April 2019, the NHS will assess services across England to establish which towns and cities need extra help.

Mental health experts have applauded the commitment to closing the care gap. “For the first time a key NHS plan has recognised the inequalities facing people severely affected by mental illness, and services for this marginalised and complex group will now be prioritised,” said Schonegevel.

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Shortened Waiting Times

Waiting times can be a huge issue for people looking to access help – the new plan said A&E waiting time targets will be reduced by 2020, although there is no mention of how much by.

Labour MP Luciana Berger pointed out that a report from 2015 set out NHS England’s commitment to developing access and waiting time standards for young people by 2020. “Sadly so many of the measures outlined ... are a rehash of what has already been promised for years,” she tweeted.

Support In A Mental Health Crisis

Over the next 10 years, the NHS aims to have a universal place for people to go to when they’re in crisis – the 111 helpline – which will operate on a 24/7 basis. Here, people will be signposted to support. The move has been criticised by some mental health campaigners – journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson tweeted: “This is not mental health care.”

The plan suggested that a 24/7 crisis response will be available for adults and older adults by 2020/21, with home treatment offered as an alternative to inpatient admission. Mental health liaison services will also be available in all acute hospital A&E departments by 2023/24.

There is also talk of increasing awareness of alternative forms of help for people in a mental health crisis – for example, sanctuaries, safe havens and crisis cafes. “We will work to improve signposting, and expand coverage to reach more people and make a greater impact,” the plan reads.

Greater Care For Those With Severe Mental Illness

A new community-based model will include access to therapy, improved physical health care, employment support, personalised and trauma-informed care, medicines management and support for self-harm and coexisting substance use.

People with severe mental illness are at higher risk of developing issues like obesity, asthma and diabetes. As such, in two years time, at least 280,000 people living with severe mental health problems will receive physical health checks, the plan said.

NHS England will also design a new Mental Health Safety Improvement Programme, which will have a focus on suicide prevention and reduction for mental health inpatients.

Support For Families And Rough Sleepers

There’ll be a focus on increasing access to care for women with perinatal mental health difficulties, with a view to helping an additional 24,000 women per year by 2023/24. Better support will also be offered to fathers or partners of women accessing specialist perinatal mental health services. Under these plans, maternity outreach clinics will offer perinatal mental health support for new parents with children up to two years old.

It’s been announced that an extra £30 million will be invested to help offer rough sleepers better access to mental health support.

Meanwhile, NHS doctors will be able to access specialist mental health support, providing a safe, confidential non-stigmatising service to turn to when they are struggling and need help.