Eczma and skin cancerA lack of mental health care for people with skin conditions is a 'slowly ticking timebomb' for the NHS, charity Changing Faces has warned.

A survey by the charity found that only 11% of patients were offered psychosocial care by a health professional. It suggests that while the cost of skin disease is just 2.23% of the NHS budget, the likely associated costs of 'psychodermatology' are much greater in the long-run.

Changing Faces’ chief executive, James Partridge, said: "There is huge stigma attached to skin disease, conditions are often wrongly assumed to be contagious or associated with bad hygiene. Alongside this, the visibility of skin conditions mean that people have to deal with the double whammy of the reaction of others as well as the physical symptoms such as itching and pain.

"The lack of psychosocial care for skin patients is a missed opportunity to help people who are often slipping under the radar of mental health services. National strategic planning for effective treatment and care will reduce long-term costs for the NHS, as well as help people back into work where they can be contributing to the public purse."

Each year 54% of people experience a skin condition, according to the charity’s report, 'Look at Me: integrated care for people with skin conditions'. A recent survey by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin found that GPs see an average of four patients with skin conditions each day.

Psychologists have long confirmed a link between skin conditions and mental health problems, including depression, and the degree of psychological distress is not linked to the perceived severity of the condition.

Chair of the campaign, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff – who is also president of the British Medical Association – welcomed the report, urging ministers to take note: "We know that the NHS is under strain at every level, but the failure to properly address this issue right now means that we're storing up problems for the future. I urge ministers in the Department of Health to read this report carefully and take heed of its recommendations."

The British Association of Dermatologists and the Primary Care Dermatology Society have also called for improvements in this area.