NHS England will begin work on an ‘implementation plan’ for new mental health waiting time standards, which include a 24-hour target for urgent mental health care.
However, implementation of the new standards will be ‘subject to Government agreement’, NHS England said.
The standards, which were proposed in July as part of an NHS England consultation, include targets for:
- Patients of all ages with an ‘urgent’ presentation to community-based mental health crisis services to be seen within 24 hours of referral, or within four hours if triaged as ‘very urgent’
- Adults and older adults accessing community-based services for ‘non-urgent’ mental health care to receive help within four weeks of referral
- Children, young people and their families/carers presenting to community-based mental health services for ‘non-urgent’ care to ‘start’ receiving help within four weeks of referral, which could involve ‘immediate advice, support or a brief intervention, help to access another more appropriate service, the start of a longer-term intervention or agreement about a patient care plan, or the start of a specialist assessment that may take longer’
- Patients presenting to A&E with mental health needs having a face-to-face assessment by specialist mental health liaison teams within one hour of being referred by an emergency department
NHS England said it will ‘now work with Government and stakeholders to set out how these ambitions can be achieved as quickly as possible for patients including ahead of any formal performance thresholds being set in the future’.
In a consultation response published today, NHS England added: ‘The responses on how best to advise on and communicate the proposed new measures, as well as the opportunities provided by and challenges to implementation, will be considered as part of an implementation plan, subject to government agreement to implement the proposals.
‘We will continue work to define and embed the new standards, including by improving data quality as implementation plans are developed.’
NHS England acknowledged that introducing the new standards ‘while retaining or improving on the quality of care currently offered will be a significant challenge’ but said it has ‘clear potential to improve experience for people seeking support’.
NHS national mental health director Claire Murdoch said: ‘The proposed new standards are good news for patients and if agreed will ensure they get timely access to mental health services, when they need them most.
‘Laying out the next steps for implementing these new proposals will be another key milestone in the journey to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health, so-called “parity of esteem”.’
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network Sean Duggan said that although the targets ‘won’t lead to improvements’ without funding, health leaders ‘will welcome the introduction of these proposed new standards’.
He said: ‘While the targets in themselves won’t lead to improvements, they will increase transparency for patients and the wider public, allow NHS teams to measure their progress, and they can help shine a brighter light on the need for more targeted resources for services.
‘None of the NHS’s allocation in the Government’s comprehensive spending review was specifically identified for mental healthcare, and this will make performance against the standards very challenging for the mental health sector.’
The new standards garnered ‘widespread support’ from patient, clinician and public respondents, with ‘more than 80%’ in favour of the proposals, NHS England added.
The current NHS maximum waiting time for non-urgent, consultant-led mental health treatments is 18 weeks from the day the patient’s appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral service, or when the hospital or service receives a patient’s referral letter.
One in four adults had to wait for a minimum of three months for their treatment to begin after initial assessment, according to a poll commissioned by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in October 2020.
More recently, the College also warned that double the number of children and young people are being referred to mental health services than before the pandemic.