Kent mental health services savaged by NHS watchdog
Mental health services have come under fire from the health watchdog and carers who say people with schizophrenia are unable to get the therapies they need.
The Healthcare Commission said “this situation must change” after a survey of mental health trusts found significant gaps in services for vulnerable people – particularly in crisis situations out of hours.
Anthony Wright, from the west Kent branch of the national mental health charity Rethink, said: “All these issues are relevant to Kent and in particular west Kent.
“Services still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to acute mental illness, which includes bipolar cases and schizophrenia.”
In the survey, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, which is responsible for mental health in the county, performed in the bottom half of trusts in country on whether patients had trust and confidence in their psychiatrist.
Patients also felt they did not have enough time with psychiatrists or enough information about medication.
Carers, who said they did not receive enough information and support, said the trust performed badly on ‘crisis care’ out of office hours.
A report on mental health services in west Kent by Rethink said: “People are forced to go to A&E because there are no out-of-hours crisis teams, which is ridiculous for someone in a florid psychotic state.”
Mr Wright said that carers in Kent found there was a “severe shortage of expert therapy” and waiting lists of more than nine months.
The Healthcare Commission (HC), which merged with two other quangos on Wednesday to form the Care Quality Commission, found 55 per cent of people with schizophrenia had not been offered recommended psychological therapies.
That includes cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling.
Anna Walker, the watchdog’s chief executive, said some improvements had been made since mental health was last reviewed in 2006.
She said: “This report shows that significant gaps still exist, particularly in important areas… This situation must change.”
Dr Malcolm Hawthorne is leading improvements to mental health services in Kent, Sussex and Surrey.
The strategic health authority (SHA), NHS South East Coast, has a 10-year strategy that promises to improve life expectancy for mental health patients, who can die up to 25 years earlier than other people.
He said: “There are areas where there are still barriers.
“Stigma and discrimination, unfortunately, are still prominent in society and anything that helps change that is gong to make a difference.
“There are barriers around the different level of recognition for someone with a severe metal illness to people with cancer or heart disease.
“I am keen that mental health issues are treated on an even footing with serious physical problems.
“There is nothing more important than the brain. The national dementia strategy has made a start to recognise that.
“With schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorders, there is still a need for them to get a lot more attention.”
He said work was being carried out to ensure patients had access to psycho-therapeutic therapies in all areas of the South East.
Dr Hawthorne said the SHA now had a mental health quality board that would act to promote the recognition of mental health problems and pateints’ care through influencing primary care trusts.
And he recognised the need to listen to carers and service users.
“Awareness is out there and these pledges from the SHA will, I think, mean that in the next 10 years there will be equal policy and care and equally positive attitudes towards people with mental illness as there is with physical illness,” he added.