• Liaison psychiatry teams would respond to patients with emergency mental health need within one hour, under new national standards 
  • Patients accessing emergency mental health services in the community should be seen within 24 hours
  • Urgent and emergency care targets represent major change and a first for mental health
  • Standards review also sets out details of new waiting times for children and young people’s mental health services 

Mental health patients needing emergency care would be seen within one hour of referral from accident and emergency departments, under new NHS England proposals.

The national review of NHS clinical standards has said patients presenting in A&E with an emergency mental health need should receive a response from the liaison psychiatry team within one hour of being referred, and within 24 hours for an urgent referral. 

The interim report, published today by NHS England, also recommends patients accessing urgent and emergency mental health services within the community should receive care within 24 hours. The targets review will also be testing emergency response times in the community, which will aim to see people “within hours”. 

The new standards will be tested this year across various pilot sites, although the areas for which have not yet been revealed. In its long-term plan, NHS England said the targets would be introduced by 2020.

They represent a major change, as they are the first urgent and emergency targets for mental health care. 

Liaison psychiatry teams are usually run by a mental health trust, but are commissioned and based within an A&E run by an acute trust. 

Additional details of proposed targets for children and young people’s services and adult community mental health teams, set out in the long-term plan, have also been revealed. According to the standards review, 12 pilot sites will be chosen to test a four-week waiting time for children and adolescent mental health services.

For adult and older adult community mental health teams, integrated care systems and sustainability and transformation partnerships will be invited to test a four-week waiting time standard. Again, the regions for the pilots are yet to be revealed.

Royal College of Psychiatrists president Wendy Burn said: “We welcome these new targets and the focus they will bring to helping improve mental health services.

“We support the proposal to pilot these targets to make sure they are working as intended. We believe the targets will help attract more funding into mental health care, which can only be a good thing after decades of underinvestment.

“But to meet them, we need the workforce to do so. This must remain a priority.”

This story was updated at 17:40 with a correction to reflect emergency care cases will be seen within one hour and urgent cases within 24 hours. 

NHS may ditch four-hour target under new proposals