National quality standards should be introduced for mental health services in emergency departments and acute wards, the Academy of Royal Colleges has said.

The call follows the publication of a report, led by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which has found dramatic variation in provision between hospitals.

"There has been no incentive to commission or develop services in these areas, as it does not feature on the 'must do' agenda," the report says.

"On the contrary, and for the same reason, the services that do exist have been under considerable threat during times of recent change in the NHS."

Acute trusts should be commissioned to provide acute psychiatric liaison services, it said.

The report's lead author, psychiatrist Paul Gill, said a large proportion of acute patients had mental health issues.

Improved training was a priority, he added.

National standards

"What we are suggesting is that they [the quality standards] need to be introduced nationally, and locally people need to think about how they could be meeting those."

College of Emergency Medicine president Jim Wardrope, who co-authored the report, said emergency clinicians backed the introduction of new standards.

The quality standards proposed by the report, focusing on areas such as response times for mental health specialists or level of expertise, are largely focused on processes.

Mr Wardrope pointed out that moving to outcome measures was more difficult in mental than physical health and would be a slower process.

"Outcome standards are actually quite hard to define, though certainly a lot of research is going on," he said.

HSJ's Mental Health Forum is on 11 September.