Shocking evidence of discrimination against people with severe mental illness has been uncovered by the Liberal Democrats, as a national survey reveals that a flagship treatment programme for psychosis is not being properly delivered in most parts of the country.
In the Coalition Government, I introduced new treatment standards for ‘Early Intervention in Psychosis’ (EIP) to guarantee that at least 50% of patients experiencing a first episode of psychosis receive a specialist package of treatment within two weeks of being referred. The new standard came into effect in April 2016.
However, an investigation by the Liberal Democrats has revealed that most mental health trusts are still not able to meet the new treatment standards – now in their second year – due to a chronic shortage of resources and trained staff.
While official data says that 72% of patients started EIP treatment within the two week target in November 2017, Freedom of Information figures from 45 mental health trusts show that the majority are not able to offer the full evidence-based treatment package in line with NICE requirements.
Among the key findings were:
- Lack of investment in EIP – Mental health trusts are investing, on average, just half of the amount NHS England estimates is needed to provide Early Intervention in Psychosis in line with NICE guidelines.
- Age discrimination – A quarter of mental health trusts continue to restrict their EIP service to patients up to the age of 35, in breach of the national standard, meaning that older people are too often denied their right to full evidence-based treatment.
- Limited availability of treatments – Many patients are not receiving the full range of treatments and interventions that should be included within the specialist EIP care package, due to a lack of resources and trained staff.
- Failure to meet the NICE standard – Only 29% trusts said that they are able to offer their patients the full NICE package of care. However, based on the overall responses to the survey, there is evidence that even this low figure over-estimates the number of trusts that are able to comply with the national standards.
The access standard for Early Intervention in Psychosis was introduced as part of the mission to achieve ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health services in the NHS – a legal requirement under the Health and Social Care Act. However, the shocking new evidence shows that the Conservative Government is failing to deliver on this promise.
The Liberal Democrats are now demanding that the Government ends this burning injustice, invests properly in mental health services, and guarantees that the new access standards for Early Intervention in Psychosis are implemented with the same priority as those for A&E and cancer.
We recently saw the public outcry when it was suggested that some cancer patients might only be offered part of the evidence-based treatment programme – with possible cuts to chemotherapy cycles. Everyone made clear that it would never be tolerated, and rightly so.
So why is it tolerated in mental health? This is pure and simple discrimination from a publicly-funded service. The stark under-funding of the NHS always results in those with mental illness losing out.
It is both morally wrong and economically stupid.We know that if those who experience psychosis get speedy access to the full evidence-based programme, it can stop the psychosis in its tracks and give that person the chance of a good life and an economically productive life. Neglect the condition and it can become entrenched, at enormous cost to the state and pain for the individual.
Investing in early intervention will save the NHS money and transform lives – so we demand that this discrimination ends.