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Emergency hospital services for mental health patients "lack equality"

The lack of equality in emergency hospital services for mental health patients needs to be addressed, health minister Norman Lamb has said.

The Liberal Democrat said the difference in services for people with mental health problems visiting hospital compared with patients with physical conditions is stark.

He added there are too many hospitals where there is a “complete absence” of mental health care.

In a Commons debate on mental health, Mr Lamb’s predecessor Paul Burstow told the Commons: “It is curious that at the moment not all general hospitals have 24/7 access to a liaison mental health service offering immediate mental health support.

“And yet we know when this works well it can make a big difference to the quality of care, it can help to reduce the length of stay in hospital, especially for older people, and it can also generate savings four times greater than the cost of actually running the service.

“There are good examples, Birmingham in particular, where they have done this. It seems odd that such obviously compelling evidence has not been taken up more widely.”

Mr Lamb said he completely agreed there are are very good examples.

But he added: “There are too many places where there is a complete absence. This is the starkest example of the lack of parity - we have a good emergency service if you have a physical health problem, it may be under pressure but it’s there, but you do not have the same in mental health and it has to be addressed.”

Former care services minister Mr Burstow, who opened the debate, said there are more than 4.6 million people in the country with both long-term physical and mental health conditions.

He said too often these people’s experiences of the NHS were that their physical and mental health problems were treated separately rather than as one.

Mr Burstow added one in three people experiencing a mental health crisis were not assessed within four hours as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

He said: “Some work was published recently by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and its president Sue Bailey, who was looking on behalf of the Department for Health on the whole issue of parity of esteem and what practical steps could be taken, and it does just beg the question how can it be right, for example, that a NICE recommendation on the availability of a drug is a must-do for the NHS, but a NICE recommendation on the availability of therapies is not.

“This means the evidence-based non-pharmacological treatments that are clinically effective and cost-effective are often left unimplemented.

“I hope that this bias will be brought to an end soon and the same can be said for access standards.

“There has rightly been an uproar when even small changes in the amount of time people wait for A&E attendances occurs.

“But NICE have said a person experiencing a mental health crisis should be assessed within four hours and yet only one in three people are.”

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