• Mental health waiting time targets due to be in place by 2021, NHS England clinical director says
  • Patients in crisis will be able to expect to be seen by a doctor or nurse within an hour
  • Mental health patients should be seen and given a treatment plan within four hours, mirroring the current A&E standard

Mental health services will be expected to treat patients in crisis within four hours as part of a new waiting time target for the sector mirroring the acute accident and emergency standard, NHS England has revealed.

Professor Tim Kendall, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, said at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester on Wednesday that two new access and waiting times standards are being drawn up for the sector.

Professor Kendall said the first was around “blue light” mental health services for people in crisis and the second focused on patients with mental health problems attending A&E.

The new standards are intended to help deliver the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, published in February, which says people in mental health crisis should have access to care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Professor Kendall said the targets will be in place by 2021. The aim is to ensure:

  • every area provides 24/7 crisis resolution and home treatment teams to provide treatment within four hours; and
  • every A&E has acute liaison psychiatric services and 50 per cent should be able to make those services available 24/7.

The new targets form part of a set of performance standards yet to be published by NHS England. Professor Kendall added that patients in crisis will also be able to expect to see a doctor or nurse within an hour.

He said: “Firstly we are expecting that everywhere across England by 2021 will have 24/7 access to crisis resolution and home treatment teams and you will only wait four hours – the same as you wait in A&E.

“Secondly we will introduce 24/7 access to proper mental health care within A&E in liaison services. By 2021, 50 per cent of services will be able to deliver care 24/7 with a full multidisciplinary mental health team.

“The standard, which hasn’t emerged yet, includes that you have a treatment plan agreed and you have your exit from A&E already in place, so you are at the door ready to leave, and it’s a maximum time.

“There is also going to be a one hour emergency time so you have got to have a doctor or nurse within an hour.”

Professor Kendall also said reducing out of area placements will save £200m across the sector, which will be used to help hit the new waiting time targets.