Achieving Parity of Care
We all expect that when something happens to us, we can go to the doctors or the hospital and receive the treatment that we need. Whether it is a broken arm, a heart attack or a cancer diagnosis, we know that we will be treated with dignity and respect for as long as necessary.
While there may be certain lifestyle choices that lead us to the doctors surgery, treating physical symptoms is often a fairly straightforward process with an outcome that either leads to discharge or further treatment.
Can we compare mental and physical healthcare?
So how does this relatively simple process compare to mental health treatment? How can we be sure that we will receive the same level of care when we visit our doctor with mental health symptoms that are not clearly identifiable and treatable such as a broken arm? The CQC has recently published a report on the 2017 Community Mental Health Survey. One of the key points they discuss is the goal to achieve ‘Parity of Care’ between mental healthcare and physical healthcare.
One of the striking differences is that everyone’s experience of mental health conditions is different. Conditions range from one off episodes that require short term contact to multiple, long term experiences. The report explains that mental illness often goes untreated and the treatments themselves are historically less effective than their physical counterparts.
The report details all of the questions that were asked and compares it to the data from previous years. While reading the questions and responses, I began a thought experiment. It struck me that if we look at some of the results and instead of thinking of mental health patients, we think of a tangible physical condition, how would we feel about the results?
So, for example:
Q. In the last 12 months, do you feel you have seen NHS mental health services often enough for your needs?
25% of respondents said ‘No’ to this question.
What if we asked the same question of spinal injury patients? Would we be comfortable with 25% of the people saying ‘No’ ?
Q. Have you been told who is in charge of organising your care and services? (This person can be anyone providing your care, and may be called a “care coordinator” or “lead professional”.)
26% of respondents said ‘No’ to this question.
What if we asked the same question of diabetes patients? Would we be comfortable with 26% of the people saying ‘No’ ?
Q. Have you agreed with someone from NHS mental health services what care you will receive?
24% of respondents said ‘No’ to this question.
Would we be happy for the same results from cancer patients?
What Should We be Willing to Accept?
There are many of these questions in the report that can be looked at in a similar vein, but the point is clear. There is a clear gap between what we would is unacceptable in the physical health and what seems to be normal in the provision of mental health services.
People with mental health issues are likely to have other physical and social issues which all combine to create unique circumstances that must be addressed together. If we are not prepared to accept the same high standards of care across the physical, mental and social sectors, then can we ever really hope to achieve parity of care?