I’ve often heard mental health described as the ‘Cinderella’ services of the NHS, playing second fiddle to physical care.
In Doncaster we’re determined to ensure that’s not the case and, as today is the start of national Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s a good opportunity to discuss the good work we are doing across the borough.
Mental health is a priority for both our Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Doncaster’s Health and Wellbeing Board. Quite right, as one in six of us are struggling with mental health issues at any one time and every year one in four of us will experience a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression. As a GP I know that at least 30 per cent of the consultations I have with patients are for mental health related issues. I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg, as many people never feel able to seek help. Is that because of the stigma that surrounds the illness?
Our CCG and Doncaster Council are working together to improve mental health services and reduce stigma. An area the size of Doncaster will have around 35,000 people with some form of common mental health problem. By 2015 we will have helped 15 per cent of those people access special ‘talking therapies’ that can put them on the road to recovery. We’ve a long way to go but we’re heading in the right direction as just a short time ago the figure was around four per cent.
The CCG recently commissioned an independent review of local mental health services and we’re actioning the recommendations, which are in line with Government guidance and include new ways of helping people in crisis and in-patient care. One initiative introduced in partnership with South Yorkshire Police is ‘Street Triage’. When Doncaster police receive a report of someone causing a disturbance in a public place who they suspect may have a mental health problem they attend the incident with a mental health worker who gives an assessment at the scene. If the person is ill they are taken straight into NHS care, not custody, ensuring those who are mentally ill are not criminalised.
People who have a mental health illness are more likely to have poor physical health – such as diabetes and chest problems – and could die early as a result. Doncaster GPs are keeping a special check on this group of patients to ensure their physical health does not deteriorate while their mental issues are being addressed.
We have some of the shortest waits in the country for children and adolescent mental health services – four weeks compared to up to 15 nationally and urgent referrals are seen within 24 hours compared to up to three weeks elsewhere. And the local voluntary sector is doing great work helping those with mental health issues, including peer support networks. We’ll be talking to Doncaster people about what they want from their local mental health services.
* Nick Tupper, chairman, Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group