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Improved mental health care for patients with physical ailments has reduced demand for GP appointments and cut hospital admissions by three quarters in a pilot scheme as part of a programme of new services that NHS England is rolling out across the country.
Since 2016, the NHS has begun testing new services which integrate mental and physical treatments, as part of its Improving Access to Talking Therapies programme. People with long-term health issues like diabetes, heart problems or respiratory illness are now routinely given a ‘whole-person assessment’, focusing on what additional mental health care they may need to manage their condition.
Helping people cope with the pain and stress of physical health symptoms makes them better able to manage their condition longer-term, resulting in improved health and reduced demand for health and care services.
Early results from one site in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough show that timely and effective mental health care for people with diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory illnesses have resulted in a three-quarters reduction in inpatient hospital attendance and a two-thirds drop in A&E admissions, freeing up £200,000 of NHS funding.
In Sunderland, additional Psychological Wellbeing Workers have been recruited and trained to help people manage long-term conditions. These patients also are offered a Managing Pain class, from a leading psychologist, which combines physical care with mental health therapy. And across the country, 3,000 mental health therapists are being placed into GP surgeries, to offer combined mind and body care to patients.
NHS England’s IAPT programme has been described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression’ and earlier this year delivered a record high recovery rate for patients, of 51.9 per cent.
NHS England national director of mental health, Claire Murdoch, said: “Effective NHS mental health care for people with long-term illness is a game-changer for our patients and good news for taxpayers. By integrating talking therapies with treatment for diabetes and heart conditions, NHS patients get care for mind and body at the same time.
“Anyone who has to deal on a daily basis with the pain of arthritis or a serious backache knows that it not only slows you down physically but darkens your mood, sometimes leading to serious mental ill health. As the NHS turns 70, integrated talking therapy services are a big step forward for our patients and a crucial part of putting mental health at the centre of our plans for the future of the health service in England.”
People with a physical health condition are more likely than the rest of the population to experience mental ill health. More than 16 million people in England are diagnosed with a long-term physical health condition, and one in three of this group will experience a mental health problem.
The mental impact of physical problems can be even more widespread for people whose condition is undiagnosed, with seven in ten people experiencing medically unexplained symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic fatigue, also having depression or anxiety.
Mental health problems can make it harder to tackle physical conditions as well as costing the health system around 50 per cent more, if left untreated. Offering access to physical activity alongside talking therapies is therefore beneficial to patients and can save taxpayers money.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is one of the first parts of the country to test new ways of combining physical and mental health care. As a result of treating people as a whole rather than just their physical or mental health issues independently, patients in that area have had to call on the health service far less. For the nearly 500 people that new treatments were trialled with, integrated mental and physical care for people with either a respiratory illness, diabetes or a cardiovascular condition, health providers saw a:
- 73 per cent reduction in demand for GP appointments.
- Decrease of nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) in A&E attendances.
- Three-quarter reduction in hospital admission.
The Clinical Commissioning Group estimates that as a result of integrating care, they were able to improve patients’ health whilst saving nearly £200,000 in spending over the several months of piloting new services.