NHS England proposes new mental health access standards

The NHS aims to improve patient access to mental health services with the introduction of five new waiting time guarantees, under plans set out today.

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Words mental health written inside the outline of a head on a pink background | Image in news article: NHS England proposes new mental health access standardsThe NHS aims to improve patient access to mental health services with the introduction of five new waiting time guarantees, under plans set out today.

The proposals could ensure that patients requiring urgent care will be seen by community mental health crisis teams within 24 hours of referral, with the most urgent getting help within four hours. Mental health liaison services for those who end up in A&E departments would also be rolled out to remaining sites across the country.

The NHS is consulting on the new standards, which have been piloted by mental health providers in collaboration with acute NHS trusts, and are backed by clinical and patient representatives.

They are part of overall service expansion and improvement for mental health outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.


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The proposed new standards are:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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The new standards come on top of existing measures of mental health access which are:

  • 75% of people referred to the Improving Access to Psychology Therapies (IAPT) programme should begin treatment within six weeks of referral and 95% of people referred to the IAPT programme should begin treatment within 18 weeks of referral; and
  • More than 60% of people experiencing a first episode of psychosis will start treatment within a NICE-recommended package of care with a specialist early intervention in psychosis service within two weeks of referral; and
  • 95% of children and young people referred for assessment or treatment for an eating disorder should receive NICE-approved treatment with a designated healthcare professional within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for every other case.

Responses can be submitted through the consultation form on the NHS England website or by email to England.reviewofstandards@nhs.net. The consultation period will run from 21 July to 1 September 2021.

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