Improving service user experience in adult mental health services

Kathryn Mason, Head of Hospital Inspection (mental health), discusses the work CQC is undertaking to improve the quality and safety of mental health services.

Listening to the experiences of people who use adult mental health services is vital to our work to improve the quality and safety of these services. Last year, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) published feedback from a survey of 12,796 people who were treated by NHS community mental health services for a mental health condition. The survey showed that people are reporting a worsening experience of care and that the longer people have been in contact with services, the less positive they are about the care they are receiving.

It also showed a deterioration in experiences around access to care, planning of care and support for people in relation to financial advice or benefits and physical health needs. These are the bread and butter functions that these services should be providing.

Recently NICE have refreshed their quality standard on service user experience in NHS adult mental health services to highlight the key areas where improvement is needed.

The update outlines the importance of people being able to access mental health services whenever they may require them, ensuring effective, timely treatments to help patients and avert a crisis. This means making sure that people who require non-acute services are seen within three weeks of their original referral.

This quality standard will enable CQC staff to continue to inspect and report what good care looks like for people with mental health conditions. To help inform and guide CQC inspections we have integrated a checklist of the quality standard into our service framework inspection tools.

The voice and experience of those who receive mental health services is vital to our work, so we are pleased to see another key component to the update is shared decision making. This helps ensure that people who are using NHS mental health services are involved in the decision-making process, alongside care professionals. It is important that people do not feel on the periphery of their own care.

Finally, at the centre of all services provided by the NHS is the core principle that patients must be treated with empathy, dignity and respect. The CQC community mental health survey 2018 showed that 71% of people felt they were always treated with respect and dignity by NHS mental health services.

Not only does this enable NHS mental health services to create a vital rapport between care professionals and their patients, it helps to eradicate the stigma which can sometimes be attributed to mental health issues, making it easier for patients to seek help when they really need it.