Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has today announced that treatment for mental health conditions will be brought into line with other NHS services with the introduction of the first ever waiting time standards.
For the first time, from April 2015, most patients needing talking therapies – for conditions like depression – will be guaranteed the treatment they need in as little as six weeks, with a maximum wait of 18 weeks.
For many patients experiencing their first episode of psychosis, the NHS will start to provide treatment within two weeks of referral – bringing it into line with consultations for cancer. Evidence shows that treating psychosis rapidly can dramatically improve patients' chances of recovery and potentially save £44 million each year in hospital admissions.
"At least one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in our lives. Whilst I have nothing but praise for the tremendous work of NHS staff, the system is still letting patients down.
"It's wrong that relatives and friends needing a hip operation can expect treatment within a clear timeframe but someone with a debilitating mental health condition has no clarity about when they will get help.
"For years, NHS waiting standards have existed for patients with physical ailments and they have drastically cut long waits. Now we are finally ending the injustice of people with mental health conditions waiting far too long for treatment with the first ever waiting time standards for NHS mental health services."
The announcement is part of a radical five-year plan to end years of imbalance between mental and physical healthcare services, backed by £40 million this year and £80 million freed up next year.
"I want to build a fairer society and that means mental health has got to be a priority for everyone. As well as being potentially devastating for people affected, mental illness has an enormous impact on our economy. That's why, through these plans, I am absolutely determined to make sure anyone with a mental health condition can expect the same standards of care as they would for a physical health problem.
"I urge the whole health and care system to engage with these ambitious plans to drive up standards so that, by 2020, mental and physical health services will be given equal priority in all parts of the country."
Other measures include:
Investment in psychiatry services in acute hospitals so that more people than ever before who go to A&E in a mental health crisis, for example if they have self-harmed, will get the right help at the right time.
A £7 million investment by NHS England to create 50 new inpatient beds for children and young people and better case management so that children with specialist needs get the right care in the right place, as close as possible to their homes and families.