GPs will be expected to offer patients with mental health problems a choice of provider and named professional when they are referred for treatment, under Department of Health plans to give parity with physical health problems.
The plans – announced today – will see patients with mental health problems given a legal right under the NHS Constitution to choose the organisation that provides their NHS care when they are referred for their first outpatient appointment.
As reported in Pulse, national standards on waiting times for GP referrals to mental health services will also be rolled out from next year, with the results published in order to act as a ‘catalyst for change’, said the DH.
In new strategic plan, titled ‘Closing the gap: priorities for essential change in mental health’ and published today, the Government wrote: ‘NHS England is currently gathering information about access to and waiting times for adult mental health services around the country, and whether any particular groups of people experience longer waits or poorer access than others.
‘Based on this information, we will then set new national stardards that focus on improving access to adult mental health services. These will be introduced starting in 2015.’
It added: ‘We will publish data gathered by NHS England so that everyone can see clearly the waiting times for different services and in different areas. This in intself should act as a catalyst for change.’
In the same document, the Government announced that GPs will be advising patients on choosing their preferred mental health provider and consultant from April.
It said: ‘The NHS Constitution Handbook sets out legal rights for physical health patients in England to choose the organisation that provides their NHS care when they are referred for their first outpatient appointment with a service led by a consultant. From April 2014, the scope of the legal right will be extended to adults with mental health problems.
‘They will be given the opportunity to choose which provider and consultant or mental health professional will be in charge of their care when they attend their first outpatient appointment. Some exemptions will apply, including when people need urgent or emergency treatment, or are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. Patients should speak to their GP first about their choices.’
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Much progress has been made – with mental health patients getting more community-based care and living in their own homes, but nothing less than true parity of esteem must be our goal.
‘We have to challenge the NHS to join up care – to treat the whole person, not just the mental health problem, and make every service as good as the best.’