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Data transparency supports the drive to transform mental health
With the launch of NHS England’s Mental Health Five Year Forward View Dashboard, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind and Chair of the NHS England Mental Health Taskforce, outlines why it marks a crucial first step in delivering the data and transparency so vital to the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.
One of the most striking things about improving mental health care is the sheer numbers needing support; one in four adults experience a mental health problem in any given year and one in 10 children have a mental health problem.
But of course behind these statistics and the many others that are used are people, both individuals with mental health problems, their loved ones, and the wider community they are part of, whether at work or at home.
For too long, people with mental health problems have had to put up with second rate, second class services. This has affected lives and it had cost lives. Having waiting a long time for a fair deal, publication of the Mental Health Taskforce’s report for the NHS earlier this year was a landmark moment in setting out a clear plan to transform mental health care in England.
NHS England’s subsequent implementation plan sets out how it plans to meet this ambition, including details of how one million extra people will be provided with support for their mental health problem.
It’s vital to ensure the NHS, people with mental health problems and the public is able to monitor progress against the plan. We must be able to identify areas which are leading the way in improving services for people with mental health problems and ensure support is available so that no-one gets left behind.
Sadly, in many areas of mental health there is a significant lack of accurate and timely reported data to enable people to fully understand what services are available across the country and how well these are serving the needs of local people. It must be a priority for NHS England to work together with commissioners and providers to fix this fast.
That’s why NHS England’s mental health dashboard, published for the first time yesterday (27 Oct), is such a welcome first step to helping to track progress. It brings some much needed openness and transparency to what has historically been a fairly opaque landscape. And over time it will be a critical tool to see if the current rhetoric around commitments to improving mental health really do match the reality on the ground.
The true test of the dashboard is whether the numbers move in the right direction so that ultimately fewer people go on to develop mental health problems and those that do get the right support and care at the right time. We simply can’t afford to let people with mental health problems down any more.
If these stats are anything like the stats put out for IAPT services they do little other than harm services. Rather than stand up to the DoH and tell them that what they are asking for the budgets is too much, many IAPT services employ data managers to massage their stats so that they look like they are achieving. Meanwhile the patients lose out as they are stuck on hidden waitlists or their true (lack of) recovery rates not revealed. Therapists under threat of job loss if they do not perform find magical ways to have their patients fall into the arbitrary recovery range on questionnaires. Services obsess about making the access target, again, arbitrarily set by some distant statistician, rather than being able to focus on excellent care for those trying to be helped now.
It’s not rocket science at all to fix this. Mental health needs a sufficient budget to provide NICE recommended treatments from staff with sustainable caseloads. The taskforce should stipulate how many of each grade worker a service should have per head of population and then consult with the workforce if they find their caseloads sustainable. Budget should also be given for proper, pleasant clinical space for patients. True parity of esteem means that NHS patients can get the same level of care as private patients, the situation now is so far off that, they are two different worlds.