Headlines: March 31st, 2009

Two reports produced today by the Healthcare Commission suggest older people are often denied access to the full range of mental health services available to younger adults and that improvements are needed to adult community specialist mental health services.

The first report is based on a study of services for people over 65 at six specialist mental health trusts – that is about 10 per cent of the total number. The Commission says it found evidence of high quality care in cases where there was good integration of health and social services and also found good support and training for carers at some trusts.

But the study shows older people were often unable to access the full range of services, including out of hours and crisis support, psychological therapies, and drug and alcohol misuse services. The Commission is recommending the Government to steer the strategic direction for mental health services towards making sure older people’s rights are upheld. It is also calling on the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other organisations to develop care models based on assessment of need rather than age.

Today’s second report finds that almost half of people who need specialist community mental healthcare do not have an out-of-hours contact to use if they are in a crisis and 55 per cent of people with schizophrenia have not been offered recommended psychological therapies. The report details progress by all 68 NHS specialist community mental health trusts.

Anna Walker, the Commission’s chief executive, said it was right that people with mental health problems were increasingly cared for in the community. She added:“While it is very encouraging that there have been some improvements since we reviewed this area in 2006, this report shows that significant gaps still exist, particularly in important areas such as access to out-of-hours support for people with a mental health problem and psychological therapies for people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. This situation must change.”