New resources made available this week by charity Rethink MentalIllness emphasise the importance of looking after the physicalhealth of service users as well as their mental health. It seemsobvious, yet, it's often neglected - and this needs to change.
Rethink Mental Illness has developed the resources as part of its '20Years Too Soon' campaign, which aims to raise awareness of thefact that people affected by severe mental illness die, on average,20 years sooner than those in the general population, mostly as aresult of preventable physical conditions.
The charity hopes that the resources will help mental healthprofessionals think more about the physical health of theirpatients.
This is a welcome development and one that should be applauded,but it again highlights the need for greater integration in healthservices. Too often, different aspects of the system work inisolation, whereas a strategy that took into account all of anindividual's needs - physical and mental - would probably result inbetter outcomes for the person, and cost savings for services.
Indeed, as recent research by The King's Fund and the Centrefor Mental Health found, people with long-term physicalconditions are 2-3 times more likely to experience mental healthproblems than the general population; but these problems are oftennot identified, which results in poorer outcomes for patients, andcosts the NHS billions.
This shows that mental health needs to be an integral part ofall health services. The arguments are too strong to ignore. Ofcourse, it's what many professionals have been saying foryears…
While it may initially cost more to achieve greater integration,the money must surely be found. Most importantly, it will improveoutcomes and life expectancy for people with mental health problemsand physical health conditions. This is the crucial benefit andshould be foremost in everyone's thinking.
However, given the current economic situation with budget cutsfor the foreseeable future, this is not enough for those in power.So, here is the trump card in the argument: improving mental healthservices, will end up saving money. Not only in the wider NHS, asthe King's Fund and Centre for Mental Health outline, but also inmental health services themselves. It could also increase taxrevenues, if people recover sufficiently to return to theworkplace; and it would cut the benefits bill at the same time.
All in all, a win-win-win-win situation. So - DavidCameron, Andrew Lansley et al - what's stopping you ? These couldbe healthcare reforms we could all agree on.