Widespread support for proposed NHS mental health access standards for patients

The NHS has today set out new ambitions for patients to have timely access to community mental healthcare, following a consultation on proposed new standards, as it faces record demand following the pandemic.

Patients, clinicians, and the public have welcomed the proposed mental health access standards which include ensuring people in the community receive help within four weeks for non-urgent treatment.

Under the proposals, patients of all ages with an urgent mental health need would be seen by community crisis teams within 24 hours.

More than 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the proposal to introduce several additional mental health access and waiting time measures.

The proposals would also see those who present to A&E with mental health needs having a face-to-face assessment by specialist mental health liaison teams within one hour of being referred by an emergency department.

The NHS will now work with Government and stakeholders to set out how these ambitions can be achieved as quickly as possible for patients including ahead of any formal performance thresholds being set in the future.

The National Medical Director was asked to review NHS access standards to ensure they measure what matters most to patients and improve clinical outcomes, and the consultation response published today shows significant support for improving access to mental health services for patients and achieving ‘parity of esteem.’

The proposals published are part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s commitment to service expansion and improvement for mental health.

Developed with clinical leaders and NHS staff, the proposed bundle of standards also include:

  • An ‘urgent’ presentation to community-based mental health crisis services, patients should be seen within 24 hours of referral, or within 4 hours for those triaged as ‘very urgent’
  • Adults and older adults accessing community-based services for non-urgent mental health care should start to receive help within four weeks of referral
  • Children, young people and their families/carers presenting to community-based mental health services for non-urgent care should start to receive help within four weeks of 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.

Claire Murdoch, the NHS’s National Mental Health Director, said: “The proposed new standards are good news for patients and if agreed will ensure they get timely access to mental health services, when they need them most.

“The national consultation showed wide-spread support for these measures from charities, stakeholders and NHS staff, with eight in ten people backing the proposed new standards, which will ensure patients who need care know when they can expect to receive it and will support more rapid access to treatment and support.

“Laying out the next steps for implementing these new proposals will be another key milestone in the journey to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health, so-called ‘parity of esteem”.

The consultation on the proposed mental health standards was open between July and September 2021, and respondents included patients, charities, carers, members of the public, and health professionals.

Alongside this, discussions were held with clinical and operational leaders across the pilot and early implementer sites, and regional mental health leads.

Minister for Mental Health Gillian Keegan, said: “Improving access to mental health services is a top priority. These new standards would help patients get support faster – including having a face-to-face assessment within one hour of being referred from A&E.

“I know there is more to do and that’s why we’re transforming mental health services in England with an extra £2.3 billion a year and will soon be launching a national conversation to inform a new long term Mental Health Strategy later this year”.

The pilot and early implementer sites field-tested the proposed standards from 2019, with 11 NHS trusts testing the urgent and emergency mental health care standards; 12 areas piloted and helped further develop the four-week waiting time standard for CYP’s community mental health support team; and a further 12 local health and care systems tested new models of integrated and primary and community mental health care for adults and older adults.