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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 01:00 GMT
NHS mental health choice demanded
Man with head in hands
One in six people are affected by mental health problems
Mental health patients should be given more choice about their treatment, a leading think-tank says.

The Institute for Public Policy Research study said patients should not miss out on the wider NHS drive to offer options for treatment.

Researchers called on the government to give patients their own budgets to spend on a range of therapies, medications and support when possible.

And they said GPs should not be the only access point to services.

The government and opposition parties are all offering NHS patients an increased choice about hospital treatment in the future.

But the IPPR has warned little has been put forward for mental health patients.

Currently there is an over-emphasis on medical services, where treatments are frequently limited to drug therapy
Sophie Corlett, of Mind

Report author Jennifer Rankin said: "So far the government policy has been focused on introducing choice in elective care, such as being able to choose what hospital you attend for surgery.

"Mental health is a test case for the choice agenda, which to date has not had much to say about being more responsive to the needs of people experiencing mental health problems.

"More choice holds out the prospect to improve services and ultimately help to improve our mental health."

One in six people are affected by mental health problems, ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

The paper, A Good Choice for Mental Health, said that, when possible, patients should be offered a range of counselling, medication, psychological therapies and complementary medicine for their care package.

To help them exercise that choice, patients should get "personal recovery budgets" - payments from the NHS in voucher or electronic form - which they can then spend on the treatment they desire.

Payments

The proposal is based on the direct payments scheme that is available to people with physical disabilities and those using social care.

In theory, it is also available to mental health patients, although in practice many find it difficult to get hold of.

The report said the choice had to filter down to everyday decisions such as what patients eat and drink and who they can see if they are in hospital - something which has been denied in the past.

And GPs should not longer be the gatekeepers to mental health services, it said.

Instead, nurses, counsellors and community groups should be able to help patients access services.

Sophie Corlett, director of policy at mental health charity Mind, said she supported the findings.

"We want to see a more integrated system of mental health treatment and social care.

"Currently there is an over-emphasis on medical services, where treatments are frequently limited to drug therapy.

"People are too often denied access to a wider range of therapies - such as talking treatments and social care services which have more preventative, supportive and socially inclusive roles."

Cliff Prior, chief executive of mental health charity Rethink, said the budgets were a "practical solution to unlock the door to choice".

"They offer the chance for people to take greater control in a system that is seen as constrained by crisis and compulsion."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the report would be seen by officials with responsibility for developing policy on choice.

She said: "The government is committed to improving the opportunities available for people with mental health problems to lead their treatment and care, be active partners in the delivery of care, and in commissioning and evaluating services."

But she denied GPs were the sole gatekeeper to services.




SEE ALSO:
Q&A: NHS patient choice
19 Jan 05 |  Health
Is real NHS choice possible?
14 Nov 04 |  Health


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