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Some improvement in mental health care

Users of community mental health services say there have been some improvements in their care, according to a Healthcare Commission survey published today.

The relationships between service users and their psychiatrists continue to improve year-on-year. Meanwhile, a greater proportion of those with more complex mental health needs know who their care co-ordinator is and are being offered copies of their care plan.

Access to out-of-hours crisis care via telephone has improved markedly in the past year. Last year only 49% of service users said they had an emergency contact number. This has risen to 52%, with the vast majority getting through to someone within an hour.

But this still leaves almost half of service users without access to out-of-hours crisis care. Meanwhile, more than one in three service users who wanted counselling say they did not get it.

Also worrying was the lack of progress in helping service users access benefits or find work. Almost a third of those who would have liked help with benefits did not receive it.

Only 49% of those who wanted help finding work were offered it. Only 20% of people using mental health services reported that they were in paid work. The national employment rate for all people of working age, according to the Office of National Statistics, stands at 74%.

Furthermore, only one in two service users who wanted information on local support groups got it.

Anna Walker, Chief Executive of the Healthcare Commission, said:

"The people who use community mental health services appear to be satisfied with the service they get overall. It is particularly pleasing to see the improvement in co-ordinated care for those with more complex mental health needs.

"The general trends are encouraging, particularly given that many trusts are still getting to grips with providing care to service users within their own communities. But this shouldn't disguise the problems - problems that have been going on for too long.

"For instance, carers and family members can provide invaluable support to people with mental health problems. It's very important that they in turn receive the support they need; otherwise there is a risk that the burden becomes too great for them to manage.

"There are a number of factors associated with improving social inclusion for service users; these include finding jobs and receiving sufficient support at home and within local communities. These results show there is still much to be done. It is vital that trusts and local partners strengthen the means by which they address this problem. We will be working with other regulators to encourage an effective partnership approach to this issue."

Healthcare Commission