Headlines: October 10th, 2005

The Government, health trusts and family doctors are facing a demand today that they act together to ensure that older people get the same level and quality of mental health care as everyone else. The call comes from the mental health charity Mind, which has published what it calls “a deeply disturbing report” into older people’s experiences of mental health servicesThe report, “Access All Ages”, raises a number of key concerns including the cut-off of services available for people over 65, a lack of treatment choice and the lack of a specific suicide prevention policy despite very high suicide rates. The report also finds that the prescription of electro-convulsive therapy doubles for older people and it points to age discrimination by GPs, including lack of drugs information

Mind says the National Service Framework for Mental Health deals only with adults up to 65, leaving mental health to be dealt with by the Framework for Older People, which does not have ring-fenced funds so mental health requirements have not been met as they are lost among the other areas covered. Mind studied a sample of PCT mental health strategies, none of which mention older people and the charity is concerned that there is a lack of mental health promotion activity for this age group.

On access to services, the report says the availability of many mental health services changes when a patient reaches 65 and this is reflected in funding criteria, including among Local Authorities, which results in service providers having to operate age barriers on their services. For example, it says, the Government’s Mental Illness Specific Grants can only fund development of social care services for ‘working age’ people.

Older people who took part in the study reported that a choice of treatments, particularly talking therapies, was often not available and Mind says recent research supports its ongoing campaign on the vital need for more information about drugs and their side effects with particular impact on older people, given their greater lack of treatment choice. The charity believes it is of grave concern that despite the increase of mental health problems in old age, and the increase of the older population, older people’s mental health problems are often not recognised by doctors and hospital staff and they are seldom seen by psychiatrists.

Richard Brook, Chief Executive of Mind, said the new campaign highlighted the neglect of a vulnerable and often isolated group of people. “Some GPs provide excellent support to older people, but too many health professionals do not yet receive the training to identify and deal with the growing mental health problems older people face. And it is crucial that for them, just like anyone else, treatment choice should be a right, not a gamble,” he added.