Challenges for local people accessing community mental health services

February 27, 2024

Many people in Birmingham are struggling to get help for their mental health, according to our new report.

Based on feedback from nearly 100 people who had used or tried to access community mental health services provided by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) in the South and East of the city, the study found issues around:

  • Quality of service: 49% rated NHS community mental health services as poor or very poor.
  • Waiting times: 22% waited 3-6 months for a first appointment following referral.
  • Over-reliance on prescription medication: 57% received prescription medication compared to only 19% that received talking therapy.
  • Consistency of care: 46% could not contact the service to get the help they needed.
  • Care planning and review: 59% did not have a care plan.

While just over half the people who shared their experiences said they were treated with kindness, dignity and respect by community mental health services, they also told us about the improvements they would like to the care they received. These include:

  • Improve access to appointments and reduce waiting times for treatment.
  • Offer people reviews after treatment and re-refer people if more support is needed.
  • Ensure that care and support is personalised following a discussion with people about their needs.
  • Produce and follow good care plans.
  • Offer more than just medication.

In response, BSMHFT has provided Healthwatch Birmingham with an action plan outlining how the Trust intends to tackle the issues identified in the report, such as:

  • Collaborative, needs led, care planning to ensuring that all discussion will be done jointly with service users and will address their needs.
  • Meet and Greet staff to support service users when they attend community hubs for their appointments.
  • Clear guidance for managing appointment cancellations, so individuals are contacted to be told why their appointment has been cancelled and when their rescheduled appointment will occur.

In six months’ time, Healthwatch Birmingham will publish an impact report detailing the progress made in delivering the improvements BSMHFT has committed to making, to ensure that people with mental health issues in Birmingham can get the essential care they need.

‘It can take a lot of courage for people to seek help with mental health issues, and they need confidence that they will get the prompt and sensitive support they need. Unfortunately, our report shows that is too rarely the case in Birmingham.

Healthwatch Birmingham welcomes BSMHFT’s stated intentions to make changes to improve the experience of service-users and address the staff shortages at the root of many of the problems, but we need to see the results in practice. Early and people-centred intervention to support those who seek help is vital. Without it, the consequences can be serious and sometimes even tragic.’

– Richard Burden, Chair, Healthwatch Birmingham

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