Doctor 2The government has made several commitments to improve the quality of mental health care, including providing training in it to all healthcare professionals in its latest mandate to Health Education England (HEE).

The mandate, Delivering high quality, effective, compassionate care: Developing the right people with the right skills and the right values, which covers the period April 2014 to March 2015, includes a range of goals for mental health services.

For instance, it says that: “HEE should develop training programmes that will enable health and care employers to ensure that all staff have an awareness of mental health problems and how they may affect their patients by January 2015. This should include an awareness of the links between patients’ mental and physical health and the impact of co-morbidity and the importance of work to health and health outcomes as well as the actions they can take to ensure that patients receive appropriate support.”

Other commitments include:
• Taking forward the objective to include compulsory work-based training modules in mental health (including dementia) in GP training
• HEE should ensure suitable training programmes are available to enable liaison and diversion services and other service partnerships between health and justice to be appropriately staffed
• In order to support the continued rollout of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme HEE and NHS England will need to ensure that there are sufficient therapists and other staff with the right skills to support the delivery of it
• To improve the care of people with dementia, all NHS staff that look after people with the condition will go through a dementia awareness programme. This will enable staff to spot the early symptoms of dementia, know how to interact with those with the condition, and signpost staff to the most appropriate care.

Welcome commitments
The commitment to more training has been welcomed by charity Rethink Mental Illness’ CEO, Mark Winstanley, who said it was “urgently needed”.

“Most of our supporters have stories about going to their GP for help with a mental health problem, only to be told ‘I don’t know much about this’ or ‘there isn't anything I can do’. As a result, many people miss out on crucial treatment that could help them avoid developing serious mental health conditions.

“In 2012 the Schizophrenia Commission report highlighted that many GPs say they lack the expertise to treat people with mental illness. Today’s announcement is a major step towards supporting health professionals to improve the care they offer to people with mental illness.”

Further reading: Doctors call for fundamental change in thinking around mental health

Winstanley also welcomed the commitment to improve the awareness of the link between physical and mental health. “Many people with mental illness also have to deal with serious physical health problems, which too often are overlooked by health professionals,” he said. “This means that people with mental illness are at risk of dying 20 years younger than average, from preventable physical health conditions.

“That has to change, and that’s why the government’s plans are so important. It really could be the difference between life and death for thousands of people with mental illness.”