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Mentally ill ‘lagging behind’ in accessing physical healthcare services

Mentally ill ‘lagging behind’ in accessing physical healthcare services

Nearly half of people with SMI have a long-term physical health condition and are at risk of losing 10-20 years of their lifespan
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Commissioners must improve physical healthcare access for people with severe mental illness, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has advised.

In a report, endorsed by seven royal healthcare colleges and Public Health England, the RCP advises commissioners to set clearer expectations of physical health services in mental healthcare settings so that people with severe mental illness (SMI) are not disadvantaged in how they access physical health services.

Over the past 50 years, the health of the general population in the UK has improved significantly.

However, the life expectancy of adults with SMI in 2016 is lagging behind as nearly half of people with SMI have a long-term physical health condition and are at risk of losing 10-20 years of their lifespan on average due to physical ill-health.

The report recommends commissioners require mental health services have a named individual with responsibility for promoting a culture enabling continuous improvement of physical healthcare services.

The report recommends doing this by providing “managerial support to implement quality improvement in clinical practice” and “encouraging direct-care staff to identify areas for improvement in standards of physical healthcare”.

Dr Phil Moore, chair of the NHS Clinical Commissioners Mental Health Commissioners Network, said the report was “welcome”.

He said: “With nearly half of people with a serious mental health illness also having a long-term physical condition, it is imperative that they receive the right care to meet both their physical and mental health needs and that we close the life expectancy gap that currently exists between this group and the general population.

“Commissioners are wholly committed to caring for physical health and mental health with equal passion.

“As frontline clinicians we see people on a daily basis who need both physical and mental healthcare and we are determined to make sure that they get the best help possible.

“The recommendations set out in this report provide useful guidance on how we do this for people with serious mental health illnesses.”

The report has also recommended that every mental health service, acute hospital, general medical practice or GP federation develop a physical health strategy for patients with SMI, which is reviewed annually.

Professor Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "Patients are living longer and reaping the health benefits of advances in medicine over the last 50 years, and those with serious mental illness must not left behind. A key part of this is ensuring that patients with serious mental illness maintain good physical health and wellbeing.

"This report drives home the need for more mental health services in the community, and for GPs and our teams to have better, easier and quicker access to these.

"One of the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View is for every GP practice to have access to a dedicated Mental Health therapist – and this will be essential in making sure our patients with serious mental illness receive optimal physical and mental health care.”

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