Research conducted by Healthwatch England suggests that mental health and social care are the main areas of concern for the general public with regard to the NHS.
Delays in receiving treatment and inadequate support for vulnerable people are top of the list of grievance with the existing health service.
Just over half of the patient watchdog group’s local branches identified mental health services as a top priority that needed serious improvement, 77 out of the 152 branches – more than for any other area of care.
This issue was considered significantly more worrying than difficulties getting to see a GP or NHS dentist (76); poor social care, including the quality of care homes and at-home support for older and disabled people (58); the need for more joined-up health and social care services (30); and the inadequacy of hospital discharge procedures (22).
Researchers from HealthWatch found that the general public experienced significant problems gaining access to mental health care, while the overall experiences of the NHS in this department were rather poor.
That included delays in accessing support, too little treatment and difficulties getting GPs to understand their condition and refer them for help.
While waiting times to receive treatment was a serious concern of patients, other issues also surfaced in the research study.
In particular, some patients criticised the NHS for delivering treatment that was too brief.
Commenting on the results, Katherine Rake, Healthwatch’s chief executive, believed that the NHS has significant room for improvement in terms of delivering adequate social care and mental health services.
“Still too often we hear from those accessing mental health support and their families that they feel the clock is ticking, and that if they are not ‘better’ by the end of their course of counselling they will be left to cope on their own.”
Responding to the criticisms, Alastair Burt, the community and social care minister, said that the government had increased the NHS budget for mental health to £11.7bn.
This figure is the largest ever budget that has been allocated to mental health in British history.
Dr Geraldine Strathdee, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, was, in fact, positive about the finding of the report.
“Mental health has until recently been the poor relation but this report shows it’s at the top of the public’s agenda. Stigma is finally decreasing and people are more willing to come forward to get effective treatment early for their children and themselves.”
Nonetheless, with huge financial and logistical pressures on the NHS, there must surely be some doubt that the health service can deliver the quality of mental health and social care required by the general public.