Millions of people in England in need of mental health support are still not accessing NHS services despite increases in funding and staffing levels, according to a new report.
The National Audit Office (NAO) report found that many of those who do access help face lengthy delays and a ‘poor experience’.
Meanwhile, NAO interviews with stakeholders highlighted that some groups have poorer experiences than others in accessing or using mental health services.
These included children and young people, those from minority ethnic groups, LGBT people, and those with more complex needs or more than one diagnosis.
NAO head, Gareth Davies, said:
“The Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England have made a series of clear commitments and plans to improve mental health services, but they have not defined what achieving full parity of esteem for mental health services will entail.
“It is therefore unclear how far the current commitments take the NHS towards its end goal, and what else is needed to achieve it and match the increasing public awareness and need.”
In an NAO survey of 33 specialist mental health trusts, most reported that they had allowed waiting times and lists to increase in response to demand and service pressures.
Meanwhile, almost half had increased treatment thresholds and six had reduced provision in some service areas.
Shadow health minister, Rosena Allin-Khan, said the findings were a “sorry indictment of the state of mental health services after 13 years of Conservative governance”.
“Waiting lists for mental health treatment are soaring, and health inequalities are growing.
“The government is haemorrhaging experienced NHS staff in the mental health workforce – it’s a mess of the government’s own making. Patients are being failed.”
A Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said:
“This report rightly acknowledges some of the extreme challenges faced by the NHS during the pandemic, and the impacts on patients, services and staff. It also recognises the progress made.
“Spending and workforce have increased, more patients are being treated, and good progress was made towards meeting targets before the pandemic.
“We are increasing investment in mental health services by over £2bn a year by 2024, and delivering 27,000 more mental health professionals, so two million more people will be able to get the mental health support they need.”