Mental health care 'needs urgent improvement'

People have spoken out about the current state of local NHS services, in a survey jointly carried out by Healthwatch in Reading, Wokingham, West Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Urgent improvements and investment are needed in mental health care, according to a joint report from local Healthwatch in Reading and four other areas.

More people raised concerns about mental health than any of the six other conditions that the NHS is focusing on as a priority, when local Healthwatch collected feedback from 1,245 people during April and May 2019.  People revealed:

  • they waited longer to be seen for help with mental health problems than they did for physical conditions like cancer
  • they thought health professionals were overworked and sometimes, uncaring
  • the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treatment ignored their unique needs.

In your own words:

  • In Reading, one woman said she had to wait three years for her bi-polar diagnosis, during which time she was a “loose cannon”.
  • A teenager in Buckinghamshire who had been self-harming she was left without any counselling support for 10 weeks and then nearly died from a suicide attempt. “Only then with intensive inpatient treatment did I start to improve about a year later.”
  • A man in Oxfordshire, who had visited A&E for being suicidal, was put on a waiting list but, “I was told the wait was a year and I would be better to go private”.
  • A West Berkshire woman said she felt “treated as a nuisance” for repeatedly visiting her GP but after two years and nearly committing suicide, “my GP finally listened”.
  • In Wokingham, one women said the ‘formulaic’ approach to care left people stranded. “If you’re not having suicidal thoughts, you’re fine to get on with life. At the time, I remember pleading with the person on the phone as I knew I was definitely not alright and, why did they not understand?”

Mandeep Kaur Bains, chief executive of Healthwatch Reading, which compiled the report on behalf of the five local Healthwatch, said: “The government is investing £20bn a year in the health service as part of its NHS Long Term Plan. We were asked to find out how people want extra funding spent in the ‘BOB’ NHS area of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West.

"The message from people was loud and clear. To borrow one of their comments, you would not half treat cancer or a broken leg, so why half treat mental health conditions?”

The report’s other findings show that:

  • access to health care is ‘very important’ for 85% of people, to help them live a healthy life – but they also want action by government, councils and industry
  • 84% say it is very important that professionals listen to them, and they particularly want better communication for people with extra needs like learning disabilities
  • 77% say it is very important to them to live at home as long as it is possible as they get older to do so, but good quality and affordable or free social care was vital to make this happen.

The report has been submitted to the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care System (ICS) which oversees NHS services for 1.8m people.

In a statement, the ICS said: “We welcome the work carried out by Healthwatch and are grateful to those who took their time to talk about their experiences, concerns and priorities. All of the feedback provided will be considered carefully by colleagues and leaders working to plan for and implement the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan.”

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