NHS services need to adapt so they can address both physical and mental health issues - and not deal with them separately, an expert has said.

Geraldine Strathdee, national clinical director for mental health for NHS England, said that more needs to be done to help people with mental health needs.

The health service in England has issued a “call to action” to help tackle inequalities between people who suffer from physical and mental illnesses.

“We need to challenge existing practice and pathways to improve health outcomes for people with mental illness,” said Dr Strathdee.

“National and local services must meet the needs of those with mental health conditions - we must design a service that meets the needs of its users, and not expect users to fit in with the services we design.

“We must also work hard to prevent those with physical health problems developing mental health issues. It is clear to me that physical and mental health issues cannot be separated - and our approach to care must change to reflect this.”

NHS England said that the average life expectancy for people with mental illness is on a par with the general population in the 1950s.

Average life expectancy is now 83 for women and 79 for men but for those with serious mental illnesses it is significantly lower - 64.5 for men and 69.9 for women.

Martin McShane, director for patients with long-term conditions, said that services for the mentally ill should be on “equal footing” with other health provisions.

“The ‘mortality gap’ we see today is shocking,” he said.

“It is not acceptable people with mental health conditions die younger.

“For too long, physical and mental health problems have been treated separately and people do not get the services they need every time.

“We know significant challenges remain but we must act to ensure mental health on a par with physical health. Doing nothing is not an option. We must create high quality care for all, now and for future generations.”