NHS England proposes new mental health access standards

New NHS England proposals could see patients requiring urgent care being seen by community mental health crisis teams within 24 hours of referral, with the most urgent getting help within four hours.

The introduction of five new waiting time guarantees, on which the NHS is consulting, have been piloted by mental health providers in collaboration with acute NHS trusts, and are backed by clinical and patient representatives. Mental health liaison services for those who end up in A&E departments would also be rolled out to remaining sites across the country.

Under the proposals, for an ‘urgent’ referral to a community based mental health crisis service, a patient should be seen within 24 hours from referral, across all ages, whilst for a ‘very urgent’ referral to a community based mental health crisis service, a patient should be seen within four hours from referral, for all age groups.

Additionally, patients referred from Accident and Emergency should be seen face to face within one hour, by mental health liaison or children and young people‘s equivalent service, and children, young people and their families/carers presenting to community-based mental health services, should start to receive care within four weeks from referral. This may involve immediate advice, support or a brief intervention, help to access another more appropriate service, the start of a longer-term intervention or agreement about a patient care plan, or the start of a specialist assessment that may take longer. Adults and older adults presenting to community-based mental health services should start to receive help within four weeks from referral. This may involve the start of a therapeutic intervention or a social intervention, or agreement about a patient care plan.

The NHS Long Term Plan, which sees investment in mental health rise by at least £2.3 billion a year in real terms by 2023/24, is delivering real improvements for patients.
 
Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said: “Together with the guarantee that mental health investment will increase each year as a share of the growing NHS budget – as has been the case each year since 2015 – these new waiting times standards are another key milestone in the journey to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health, so-called ‘parity of esteem’.”

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