Experience of vital mental health services poorest for years

An annual Care Quality Commission survey has found that people’s experiences of mental health care continue to be poor, with people’s experience of some areas of care at their lowest point in eight years.

The Community Mental Health Survey shows that nearly half of respondents reported that their mental health had deteriorated due to changes made to their care and treatment due to the pandemic.

People with more challenging and severe non-psychotic disorders, as well as those with complicated cognitive impairment and dementia disorders, consistently reported worse than average experiences when compared with those with psychotic disorders. Those aged 18-35 also reported worse than average experiences compared to those aged 66 and older.

The survey found people who received telephone-based care reported worse than average experiences in the key themes of overall experience, access, communication and respect and dignity. In contrast, people who received care using video conferencing technology reported better than average experiences in these areas.

Other findings from the survey include: 26 per cent of people would not know who to contact out of hours in the NHS if they had a crisis; nearly a fifth reported care and services were not available when they needed them in the last 12 months;  and only 56 per cent of people were given enough time to discuss their needs and treatment.

Jemima Burnage, CQC’s Deputy Chief Inspector and lead for mental health, said: “Not being able to access the right care and support when it is needed increases the risk of an individuals’ mental health deteriorating. This is a longstanding challenge, which has been exacerbated by the increased demand on mental health services due to Covid-19. It is therefore deeply concerning to see that people’s experiences of community mental health services are so poor, particularly at a time when the number of people needing expert care for a mental health condition has increased.

“The pandemic has placed severe strain on all health services and the staff working in them, including mental health services. The negative impact of working under this sustained pressure, including anxiety, stress and burnout, cannot be underestimated. As we have previously reported, people’s experiences of mental health services were poor prior to the pandemic, which is why it has never been more important that services are given the right support to be able to meet increased demand.

“The NHS Long Term Plan made a number of commitments for mental health services, some of which have been implemented, and this work must continue so people are able to access the right care when they need it. The development of Integrated Care Systems is also a vital opportunity for mental health services to become more joined up with other services, improving outcomes for people with long-term mental health conditions and achieving true parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”