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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
Mental health care 'suffers gaps'
Image of a depressed man
One in four people suffers mental health problems each year
There are gaps in NHS mental health services despite most patients being satisfied with the staff treating them, according to a study.

A Healthcare Commission poll of 26,500 people found 80% of patients said they were treated with respect and dignity.

But the survey also said many did not have access to emergency support, were not involved in decisions and were not told about the side effects of drugs.

Campaigners said mental health patients were "still getting a raw deal".

One in four people suffers mental health problems each year.

Anna Walker, chief executive of the watchdog, said: "This survey shows people who use mental health services have a lot of praise for the doctors, nurses and other specialist staff providing their care.

This survey shows that people who use mental health services are still getting a raw deal in comparison to other NHS patients
Cliff Prior, of Rethink

"However, there are still problems that need to be addressed. Service users need better support and information, especially out of hours.

"They need more access to counselling and they need better continuity of care. These are important challenges."

The survey of 26,500 people found more than half did not have a phone number of someone from local mental health services they could contact in an emergency, despite the national service framework saying they should.

Concerns were also raised about continuity of care. One in four had not seen the same psychiatrist during their last two visits and 44% had had an appointment cancelled in the last year.

Of those who had taken medication, a third were not told about the possible side effects.

And one in five using drugs said they had not been involved in deciding what medication they should take, even though guidelines state that patients should agree a care plan with health professionals.


Half of those wanting help to find work did not receive it either.

But despite the shortfalls, the majority of people said they were satisfied with the service.

While slightly more people reported they were being treated with dignity and respect, nine in 10 trusted their psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse.

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, admitted there was "always room for improvement".

But she said: "All too often mental health has been a Cinderella service, so it's good news that service users are so positive about the care."

Mental health charity Rethink's chief executive Cliff Prior said: "This survey shows that people who use mental health services are still getting a raw deal in comparison to other NHS patients.

"Mental health needs to stay a top priority and the pace of change and reform must continue."

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: "This report shows a much rosier view of the mental health services than the reality expressed by our 1,000 callers to Saneline each week.

"It comes at a time when hospital beds are being lost, wards and day centres are closing, consultant posts are not being replaced, and there is a disturbing lack of qualified staff."

She added: "Where our own evidence backs up the report is the lack of availability of taking therapies and counselling.""


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