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Wednesday, 13 October, 1999, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Blueprint for tackling mental health 'lottery'
Crowd scene
One in six people adults suffers from a mental health problem
Mentally ill adults in England should get access to round the clock treatment and a hospital bed if they need one, according to the first national standards on mental health.

Mental Health
The National Service Framework on mental health sets out what the public can expect from health and social services.

It also includes timescales for when improvements to services should be made.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson told the Labour party conference in Bournemouth on Thursday: "In the past, people with mental health problems have been let down by unacceptable variations in health care.

"I want services that offer the highest quality to everyone, regardless of their gender, age, race or where they live."

The framework, developed from recommendations from a group of experts, covers adult services only and contains seven main standards.

They are:

  • Combatting discrimination against the mentally ill by working with communities and individuals and promoting social inclusion
  • Ensuring any patient who goes to their GP with a mental health problem gets their needs assessed and is offered referral to specialist services if they need them
  • Ensuring anyone with a common mental health problem can get local services at any time of the day or night and be able to contact NHS Direct for referral to specialist agencies for further advice
  • Stating that all people on a Care Approach Programme, used those with a serious mental health problem, has a written care plan which is regularly reviewed by their care co-ordinator and that they are able to get access to services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • Ensuring patients who require treatment outside their own home have "timely access to an appropriate bed or alternative bed or place, which is in the least restrictive environment consistent with the need to protect them and the public and as close to home as possible" and that they get a written copy of their after-care plan agreed on discharge which specifies the action which should be taken in a crisis
  • Giving carers the right to have their needs assessed and identified and to have their own written care plan
  • Ensuring care staff are competent to assess patients' suicide risk, that they support local prison staff in reducing suicides in prison and that local systems for monitoring suicide levels are developed

Reducing suicide is one of the key parts of the government's public health agenda.

Media scares

Mr Dobson said as many as one in six adults were suffering from mental health problems ranging from depression to schizophrenia at any time.

He stressed that mentally ill people were more of a danger to themselves than to others, despite media scares over community care killers.

He said 4,000 people in England took their own lives every year.

"With proper care, intervention and support many of these lives might be saved, and for thousands of others we can help reduce the trauma."

Mr Dobson also announced reforms to the Care Programme Approach, used to treat the mentally ill.

The reforms, to be published next week, will focus on ways of promoting closer working between different care agencies, achieving national consistency in care standards and reducing bureaucracy.

See also:

20 Aug 99 | Health
Psychiatric services 'failing'
13 Oct 99 | Health
Suicidal 'failed' by NHS
13 Oct 99 | Health
Mental Health Act 1983
13 Oct 99 | Health
The origins of community care
30 Sep 99 | Health
'NHS rot has stopped'
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