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Mental and physical health ‘must’ be made equal

BMA calls for action on parity of outcomes

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 06 May 2014

Equal value must be placed on both mental and physical health.

The warning comes from the British Medical Association in a new report which will today be launched in the House of Lords. 

Calling for urgent action to make parity of outcomes across physical and mental health a reality, ‘Recognising the importance of physical health in mental health and intellectual disability – achieving parity of outcomes’ highlights the fact the physical health problems of patients with a mental illness or an intellectual disability (ID) are under-addressed, while the mental health of patients with a physical illness is often neglected, leading to high levels of excess mortality.

An estimated 60% of excess mortality among people with mental illness is due to physical ill health with, on average, men suffering from mental health problems having a shortened life expectancy of 20 years while women are likely to die 15 years earlier than the general population. For adults with an intellectual disability, similar patterns of premature mortality are seen.

This disparity in outcomes has been compounded by cuts to funding, states the BMA, which have seen 1,711 mental health beds closed since April 2011, while therapy sessions for those with a mental illness are limited to just 20 on the NHS.

In order to address this, the BMA is calling for a range of measures, including:

  • Better integration of intellectual disability, mental health and physical healthcare to ensure there are clear pathways of care, and allocation of responsibility.
  • A liaison psychiatry service and intellectual disability liaison service to be made available in all hospitals.
  • All mental health trusts to appoint a liaison physician in psychiatric wards to support the physical health needs of patients.
  • The establishment of a National Learning Disability Mortality Review.
  • Improved training for trainees and doctors in how to deal appropriately with both people with mental illness and people with intellectual disability, and to make any needed adjustments to their care to achieve good outcomes.

Commenting, Professor Sheila Hollins, Chair of the BMA’s Board of Science, said “It is deeply concerning that mental health in the UK is not universally held in the same regard as patients’ physical health, nor does it receive comparable levels of funding. There would be an outcry if patients with a physical illness were denied treatment or care due to cuts in funding, yet this is what we are seeing for those patients suffering from mental illness.

“A person suffering from a severe mental illness or who has an ID, is much more likely to have a physical health problem, and worryingly is more likely to die of that illness within five years. Despite this evidence, their physical health continues to be under-addressed, while the mental health of those with a physical problem is all too often neglected.

“In order to address this problem it is vital that we stop emphasising one or the other, and ensure that equal value is placed on both mental and physical health, particularly for the most vulnerable members of society.”

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