This week, NHS England set out the proposed access standards for mental health in England.
We welcome these goals for improving access to mental health services, particularly given the mental health impact of the pandemic on communities across the country. The new standards will also help to move us towards equality (or ‘parity of esteem’) of mental health and physical health.
As well as improving access to mental health services, the standards also need to be part of a wider strategy for tackling the social inequalities which often prevent people from accessing the support they need.
Ultimately, we need to make sure there is ‘no wrong door’ to people accessing support.
The standards are ambitious, so they will need to be backed with significant additional funding to make sure there are enough clinicians and community-based, non-clinical practitioners to provide the support.
Many existing services are already facing workforce challenges, so this is something we are keen to see addressed.
Part of addressing access issues will be to take a more holistic view of mental health support, including non-clinical interventions.
Social prescribing and broader non-clinical support, like that provided by our Together in a Crisis services, can provide practical help to overcome challenging life circumstances that impact mental health, such as financial difficulties, unstable housing, and relationship issues.
Social prescribing link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’, and take a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They connect people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support.
We believe that access to services like Together in a Crisis also needs to be central to the mental health agenda.
Moving forward together
The NHS England mental health access standards are a welcome start, but we’re keen to see more detail on how mental health providers and the wider sector will be supported to meet these ambitious targets.
We hope that a more focused discussion will form part of the Mental Health Strategy later this year.