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NHS England has today published guidance for commissioners, GPs and providers to help them support patients to choose their mental health care.
From 1 April 2014 patients with mental health conditions have had the same rights as physical health patients to choose where they have their first outpatient appointment.
They are able to choose any clinically appropriate provider in England as long as a clinical commissioning group (CCG) or NHS England has a contract with them.
Work is already underway to improve information on mental health conditions and treatments for both patients and referrers; improve information to help patients choose a provider; and make sure money follows the patients to incentivise providers.
Commissioners, GPs and providers are encouraged to adopt the interim guidance while NHS England consults further with them on areas that need to be improved, as well as the work to embed this choice in the coming years. NHS England will also hold engagement events with patients.
Dr Martin McShane, NHS England’s Director for Long Term Conditions, said: “Patients’ right to choose who provides their mental health care and treatment is a major step towards establishing ‘parity of esteem’, or equal status, between mental and physical health services in the NHS.
“Helping patients make choices about their care is at the heart of NHS policy. Choice will drive improved services and patient outcomes. We will be working closely with health professionals and patients to ensure they have the support they need for choice to work well, in the interest of patients.”
Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb MP said: “I am absolutely committed to achieving equality between mental and physical health care. That’s why, for the first time, anyone referred for mental health treatment now has the right to choose who provides their care, as is the case with physical health.
“Through the mandate, we have asked NHS England to make sure that choice will be fully embedded by 2015. This guidance is an important step in helping health and care providers ensure that anyone referred for mental health treatment is supported to make informed decisions about their care.”
The guidance covers issues such as how to support patients in the choices they are able to make; how to respond to any significant changes in where patients are referred to when patients make their choices; and clarity on pricing and paying for mental health services.
As with physical health conditions, with the help of their GP patients can now choose who provides their care. Patients can choose to be referred outside of their local area to a provider anywhere in the country.
There are exemptions to the new right to choice, such as patients who need high secure psychiatric services or who are detained under the Mental Health Act. These are set out in the guidance.