NHS vanguards 'failing on mental health services'

NHS vanguards designed to develop new models of care for patients and staff could miss an opportunity to "revolutionise" mental health services because they are not giving them a high enough priority, a report has warned.

Fifty vanguards were established between January and September 2015 to develop a "blueprint" for the future of the NHS that would join up services and bring access to treatment closer to home.

However, the study by the King's Fund and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) says that while some vanguards have had a positive impact - one, Tower Hamlets Together, has reduced bed days for people with dementia, serious mental illness and depressed by 12.7% - but many others have made little progress.

In particular, the report argues, service changes to bring mental and physical health together have not been ambitious enough. This is despite integration being one of three key priorities in NHS England's five-year plan for mental health, and the NHS's five-year forward view delivery plan published in March setting out an aim to "make the biggest national move to integrated care of any major Western country".

It calls on areas that are developing new ways of working, particularly through sustainability and transformation plans, to offer more mental health support in GP surgeries and hospitals, and to consider mental health as a key element of their approach to public health.

"The approaches being developed in the vanguards are intended to be a blueprint for the future of the NHS, so mental health needs to be at their core," said Chris Ham, chief executive of the King's Fund.

"Getting this right means better quality care and could also help the NHS to meet the challenge of providing healthcare free at the point of use to an ageing population."

RCPsych president Professor Sir Simon Wessely added: "These integrated care models offer a pathway to revolutionised health services in this country, but the report's findings are worrying.

"In addition to giving health providers greater incentives to fully integrate mental health into all their physical health services, we need to properly evaluate these models so we know what works and what doesn't."