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Commission calls for mental health parity in Northern Ireland

Report finds underfunding, service fragmentation and severe lack of access to services

Louise Prime

Friday, 17 June 2016

Mental health must be given parity with physical health in Northern Ireland, an independent commission led by Lord Nigel Crisp insisted this morning. The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland supports the conclusions of its report, which also highlighted lack of funding, service fragmentation and a “severe lack of access to psychological services” in the region.

The Commission was set up last year to address the issues facing patients in Northern Ireland needing acute inpatient care for mental health problems. It found that more than a quarter (27%) of patients in the region’s adult inpatient mental health units would be more appropriately cared for in either community or specialist services. A further one in five (23%) were ready to leave wards but were unable to because of a shortage of housing or community support services to care for them safely on discharge.

The Commission’s investigation revealed a severe lack of access to psychological services and a serious shortage of crisis and home treatment teams, specialist psychiatric services for people with eating disorders, personality disorders and perinatal mental illness.

Even though Northern Ireland has the highest rate of both suicide and mental illness in the United Kingdom, the Commission found evidence that mental health services are seriously underfunded. The prevalence of mental illness in Northern Ireland is estimated to be at least 20% higher than in England, yet in 2010 its per capita spending on mental illness and learning disabilities was less than half that in England. The Royal College of Psychiatrists backed the Commission’s demand that the newly elected Assembly and the Department of Health give equal priority to the needs of mental health provision and services when funds are allocated.

The Commission recommends significant changes to the way that mental health services are organised in the Region, including:

  •  mental health needs to be given equal priority with physical health
  • a maximum 4-hour wait for admission to an acute psychiatric ward for adults, or acceptance for home-based treatment following assessment, complemented by a 24-hour Home Treatment Team availability standard
  • investment in crisis resolution and home treatment teams, specialist psychiatric services, psychological therapies and community support such as supported housing 
  • creation of a single mental health service for Northern Ireland
  • support for carers
  • a simpler and more rigorous evidence-based approach to commissioning services.

Commission chair Lord Nigel Crisp insisted: “It is now time to ensure that seriously mentally ill people are now given the same priority as seriously physically ill patients.”

President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Professor Sir Simon Wessely said: “It is a scandal that some patients in Northern Ireland have to travel to England to get the care that they need ...

“The answers lie in assessing the entire system.  In particular we stand alongside Lord Crisp in asking that there is a new target for a maximum 4-hour wait for admission or home treatment by 2017, and that the practice of sending seriously sick patients many miles from home and sometimes overseas, is ended by the development of community and specialist services that can give them the care they need.”

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