All mental health providers will be expected to implement a single point of access for patients suffering crises in the next year, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health has revealed.
All mental health providers will be expected to implement a single point of access for patients suffering crises in the next year, NHS England’s national clinical director for the sector has revealed.
In an HSJ interview Geraldine Strathdee also set out her priorities and expressed fears over its poor quality of data.
The consultant psychiatrist, who also works at Oxleas Foundation Trust in south London, said commissioners and providers needed to work together in a “collaborative approach” with other partners to develop easier access to services.
A crisis concordat is expected to be published within the next few weeks, signed by the NHS, government departments, police representatives and other organisations. It will set out expectations for patients in crisis and how services must be joined up and made more accessible to them.
Dr Strathdee said she wanted to see a “single front door that makes access easier for people” to ease the “fragmentation of crisis care”. This would take the form of a single, clearly identifiable gateway telephone number in each area.
“If you’re physically ill you dial 999 and you know where you are going,” she said. “If you have a mental health problem there are several numbers people can ring. The evidence base is really clear about what creates safety and it’s a single phone number.”
Dr Strathdee said this telephone line, which would use “teletriage” staff, could result in 42 per cent of callers not needing to be seen in person.
Funding for mental health services has been in the spotlight after it emerged that mental health and community trusts faced 20 per cent higher cuts to their tariff prices than the acute sector, on top of real terms cuts to their funding in recent years.
Dr Strathdee pointed to a lack of accurate data on the sector’s current financial position and level of need.
“We won’t have parity until we… have accurate data,” she said.
She warned providers against “disinvesting” in intensive clinical teams and said organisations following such policies needed to evaluate their impact.
Within the government’s mandate to NHS England, ministers demanded better access and set a waiting times target for mental health patients. These should be achieved by March 2015.
Dr Strathdee said there was a “mental health informatics revolution” underway to determine current performance on waiting times and access standards, adding that 13 national agencies had signed up to a plan to share data in order to develop the appropriate standards.
“No one part of the system has all of the data at the minute and we haven’t got a system yet for pooling it but we have agreed that is what we are going to do,” she said.
She also revealed a major investment by NHS England into training mental health leads at clinical commissioning groups across the country to help “industrialise and maximise implementation of parity of esteem”. This will build on a pilot scheme that began in London last year.