NAO report shows mental health services struggling under the weight of inordinate pressure

09 February 2023

The National Audit Office has published a report documenting the progress made to improve mental health services in England. Here, we respond to their findings.

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness:   

“This is a snapshot of mental health services struggling under the weight of inordinate pressure. Important progress has been made and more people are being treated than ever before, but the level of unmet need must be addressed. Behind the statistics of growing waiting lists are millions of people whose quality of life is being damaged by mental illness, many of whom will experience crisis without preventative support.   

“The progress to achieve new waiting time standards in some areas, including for early intervention in psychosis, is testament to the huge amount of hard work happening within the sector, but progress is far from universal and the impact of the pandemic, now compounded by the cost of living crisis, is stark. With workforce gaps hampering efforts to address growing demand, it’s paramount that the workforce plan that the chancellor committed to in the autumn statement is brought forward to grow and retain the workforce needed to improve access to services and the standard of care people receive. Inequalities entrenched within the system, meaning that vast numbers of people have a particularly poor experience of care, including those from minority ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ people and those with more complex needs, must also be tackled as a priority. To do this, the NHS must provide culturally appropriate services, working closely with the voluntary sector and community groups to reach people who aren’t currently accessing support.   

“As much as we need a new NHS Long Term plan which is fit for the post-pandemic era, with clarity around how parity of esteem between physical and mental health will be achieved, we also need to recognise that the responsibility for the nation’s mental health sits with the government and all its departments, not just the NHS. All the funding in the world for NHS mental health services won’t reduce demand. This can only be achieved by both adequately funding social care and challenging the drivers of mental illness, including financial instability and poor housing. This report comes a fortnight after the government announced the scrapping of its promised cross government plan for mental health and wellbeing. Today’s National Audit Office report should give them pause to reconsider this decision.”