Last reviewed 25 November 2013

The Government has included in its refreshed Mandate to NHS England ways in which it expects the NHS to improve services for people with mental health problems in the next few years.

The document, which sets out the strategic direction for NHS England, describes new objectives of putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health and closing the health gap between people with mental health problems and the population as a whole, as well as changing the way care is provided for older people and those with complex needs.

Department of Health (DH) statistics show that mental illness is the biggest cause of disability in the UK and people with severe mental health illness are dying an average of 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population. However, only 11% of the NHS budget paid for NHS services for mental health problems during 2010 to 2011.

The mandate gives NHS England the responsibility of looking at the availability of mental health services across the country to get a better picture of where improvement is needed, and includes a commitment to introduce new waiting time and access standards for mental health services from 2015.

The document also looks at removing the stigma surrounding mental health. The DH is looking at the gap between mental health and physical health in crisis care by writing principles on how mental health crisis care should respond and developing a “Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat”, which will commit the NHS, the police, the Home Office and other key organisations to ensuring that joined-up support systems are in place.

Health and social care minister Norman Lamb added: “Why is it that those with mental health problems were left out of key advances on waiting times and choice over the last decade? It’s impossible to justify and it results in mental health losing out financially as well. I am determined to change this and to challenge this institutional bias which exists in the health and care system against mental health”.

The refreshed mandate will come into effect from 1 April 2014 and is structured around the five main areas of preventing people from dying prematurely; enhancing quality of life for people with long-term conditions; helping people to recover from episodes of ill health or following injury; ensuring that people have a positive experience of care; and treating and caring for people in a safe environment and protecting them from avoidable harm.

The latest NHS Outcomes Framework for 2014 to 2015 sets out the outcomes and corresponding indicators that will be used to hold NHS England to account for these improvements.