Commission urges big improvement in mental health services
Steps must be taken to radically improve mental healthcare in Northern Ireland, according to a new report.
Researchers identified a serious shortage of crisis and home treatment teams as well as inadequate specialist services for people with eating disorders, personality problems and perinatal mental illnesses.
Those suffering a severe mental illness should be able to expect the same level of care as those who have a heart attack or a stroke, the study said.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "It is a scandal that some patients in Northern Ireland have to travel to England to get the care that they need."
The report was compiled by an independent commission led by Lord Nigel Crisp, former Chief Executive of the NHS in England and former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, and supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
It was set up in January 2015 amid concerns about the provision of acute inpatient psychiatric beds in parts of England and Northern Ireland.
The commission found that one in four patients in adult mental health units would be more appropriately cared for in the community while one in five were unable to leave hospital because of insufficient housing or community support services.
And, despite having the highest suicide rate and the highest level of mental illness in the UK, mental health services in Northern Ireland are badly underfunded, it was claimed.
A severe lack of access to psychological services was also highlighted.
Professor Wessley added: "When I became President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists I asked Lord Crisp to chair an independent commission into the state of acute psychiatric care. He and his team have travelled the length and breadth of the region looking at inpatient services, finding much to like, but still not enough being done.
"The answers lie in assessing the entire system. In particular we stand alongside Lord Crisp in asking that there is a new target for a maximum four-hour wait for admission or home treatment by 2017, and that the practice of sending seriously sick patients many miles from home and sometimes overseas, is ended by the development of community and specialist services that can give them the care they need."
The commission's key recommendations include the introduction of a maximum four-hour waiting time for admission to an acute psychiatric ward for adults; investment in crisis resolution and home treatment teams, specialist psychiatric services, psychological therapies and community support such as supported housing; and the creation of a single mental health service for the region.
Lord Crisp said: "There is a good foundation of services and policy to build on and it is now time to ensure that seriously mentally ill people are now given the same priority as seriously physically ill patients."