On 1 April, legal rights over mental health care were extended to allow patients to choose where they have their first outpatient appointment, giving them the same rights as patients with physical health problems.
Under previous rules, mental health patients were referred for a first outpatient appointment and were only able to choose who treated them within the providers determined by their CCG or NHS England.
Now, patients will be able to choose any clinically appropriate provider in England, even those outside of their local area, as long as a CCG or NHS England has a contract with them.
Interim guidance from NHS England, developed with input from GPs, states that enabling patients to make choices about their care ‘is at the heart of NHS policy’. It adds that choice ‘has a key role to play in improving quality and contributing to the delivery of better outcomes for patients’.
Dr Martin McShane, director for long-term conditions at NHS England, described the updated guidelines as a ‘major step towards establishing parity of esteem, or equal status, between mental and physical health services in the NHS’.
He said: ‘Choice will drive improved services and patient outcomes. We will be working closely with health professionals and patients to ensure they have the support they need for choice to work well, in the interest of patients.’
Commissioners, GPs and providers are ‘encouraged to adopt the interim guidance’, and NHS England has pledged to consult with them further to fine-tune areas of improvement.
Norman Lamb MP, minister for care and support, said the choice should be fully embedded by 2015.
He said: ‘This guidance is an important step in helping health and care providers ensure that anyone referred for mental health treatment is supported to make informed decisions about their care.’
Patients detained under the Mental Health Act, and those who require high secure psychiatric services, will be exempt from the right to choice.