The Royal College of Psychiatrists responds to the Public Accounts Committee’s report on improving NHS mental health services

Statement / comment
21 July 2023

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee has today published a report making several recommendations for improving the current state of NHS mental health services.

Warning of increasing pressures on NHS mental health staff at a time of spiking demand, the report makes a number of recommendations, as well as drawing attention to the absence of a definition on how to treat mental health services with equal priority as physical services – 12 years after the Government goal was announced.

The ambition towards equal priority of services is also known as ‘parity of esteem’.

Responding to the publication of the report, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Lade Smith CBE, said:

“We welcome this report and support the Committee’s recommendations. In particular, we are pleased that the need to ensure a clear definition of ‘parity of esteem’, to be provided by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England (NHSE), has been highlighted. Once realised, this should put mental health services on an equal footing with physical health services.

“To measure progress in achieving the ‘parity of esteem’ goal, a uniform definition is needed to unite NHSE, DHSC and the wider mental health system in their efforts towards this.

“In our submission to the Committee, the College set out a detailed definition of what we believe true parity should look like, calling for a comprehensive statement to be produced by the Department and NHSE this summer, followed by a roadmap by the end of the year. This should cover issues such as waiting time standards, widening access to services, prevention and workforce requirements.

“Millions of patients are struggling to access the mental health care they need. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has created huge backlogs in mental health services, yet the funding is still out of step with increased investment in physical health. At the height of the pandemic in 2021, a record 4.3 million referrals were made to mental health services.

“We are pleased that the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan has been published, however more detail will be needed to identify where the resource will be allocated. The report correctly highlights that behind the headline growth in the overall mental health workforce, there has been much slower progress for consultant psychiatrists and mental health nursing. It also underlines that workforce shortages are hampering the improvement and expansion of services. We support the Committee’s call for NHSE to spell out who will be responsible for delivering the necessary increases in doctors, nurses and therapists. This is sorely needed as a supplement to the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

“Data quality and availability remains a key issue which must be addressed to enable the success of NHS Integrated Care Boards (ICBs), which are responsible for meeting the health needs of the population, in particular, the mental health needs. It is also positive to see the Committee’s acknowledgement that DHSC and NHSE need to build their available evidence base in order to analyse the cost-effectiveness of mental health programmes.  

“This drive for data quality improvement can be supported by implementing the clinical review of standards. At present, unlike physical health services, waiting time standards only apply to a limited number of mental health services, omitting the bulk of core community and inpatient services. The Government must commit the necessary funding to deliver these new measures, which would underpin the move to parity. When published and measured, this will help to ensure more focus on service delivery within ICBs, to the benefit of patients who rely on them.”

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