An investigation by the London Assembly has revealed that more than a million Londoners have a mental health problem but find access to treatment is inadequate.
A new report, Navigating the Mental Health Maze, finds long waiting lists, confusing referral procedures, and a lack of information about what is available are making it difficult for people to access the right treatment and support.
The report has identified further barriers to accessing mental health services, including:
- The huge number of different statutory, voluntary and private sector organisations providing treatment and support, which creates a confusing maze of service provision.
- Referral procedures vary across London, which makes it difficult for professionals to know how to direct people on to specialist help.
- Waiting lists for popular talking therapies can be more than a year long, which leaves GPs with few options besides prescribing anti-depressants.
- Many services are only open during office hours, or don’t provide good interpretation and translation services, which means many Londoners can’t use them.
- The pressure put on NHS budgets this year, which has delayed the implementation of new initiatives to improve access to services.
Joanne McCartney AM, Chair of the London Assembly Health and Public Services Committee, said is was “crucial that people who need help are able to access it quickly and easily.”
According to Ms McCartney “more than half of respondents to a survey conducted as part of our investigation said they were not given enough information about services available to them. There are high levels of satisfaction with the quality of mental health services, but it is clear that there are real problems accessing those services.”
The report also found that Commissioners lack good quality data on the mental health needs of local communities, making it hard for them to ensure services are accessible to their local population. In addition, there is not always a clear link between the amount a primary care trust (PCT) spends on mental health and the level of need in that PCT area, meaning Londoners are facing a postcode lottery for receiving treatment for mental health issues.
To make it easier for Londoners to access mental health services that meet their needs, the report makes a number of recommendations. These recommendations include the development of a website that provides clear and comprehensive information on all London’s mental health services and the need to agree a single pan-London referral system for specialist mental health services.
The report’s findings have been welcomed by mental health care campaigners and practitioners.
Niall Dickson, King’s Fund Chief Executive, called the report “helpful” adding that it “highlights the challenges facing both London’s mental health services, and Londoners who want their mental health needs to be addressed effectively and without delays.”
Dickson called for “better information about what services are available.”
Alison Armstrong, Director of London Wide Programmes at NHS London, said se was “pleased that NHS London was able to give a candid view for the ongoing development of robust and needs led commissioning arrangements, both locally and across London. However I am clear the NHS cannot deliver these specialist services to some of our most vulnerable groups without multi-agency planning and co-operation.”