CQC survey finds many people are having poor experiences of community mental health services

Published: 24 November 2020 Page last updated: 24 November 2020

People are consistently reporting poor experiences of NHS community mental health services with few positive results, according to an annual survey from the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

CQC’s 2020 Community Mental Health Survey published today (Tuesday 24 November), finds poor experiences were reported for support and wellbeing, crisis care and accessing care. People reported they did not always receive support for physical health needs, finding financial advice or finding and keeping employment, which are all key drivers for good mental health.

People with more challenging and severe non-psychotic disorders, as well as those with complicated cognitive impairment and dementia disorders consistently reported worse than average experiences when compared with those with psychotic disorders. Those aged 18-35 also reported worse than average experiences than those aged 66 and older.

This year’s survey received responses from 17,601 people who reported on their experience of being cared for by NHS community-based mental health services in the previous 12 months. Fieldwork took place between February 2020 and June 2020, partly during the first COVID-19 national lockdown. Analysis suggests the survey findings have been affected by this and so the 2020 results are not compared against data from previous surveys.

The findings include:

  • Over a quarter of people (28%) said that they would not know who to contact, out of office hours in the NHS, if they had a crisis, 17% of those who did try to make contact with this person or team said they did not get the help they needed. A further 2% were unable to make contact at all.
  • Almost two in five people (36%) had not had support with their physical health needs and 43% did not receive help or advice to find support with financial advice or benefits.
  • Forty-four per cent of people who have received NHS therapies in the last 12 months felt they waited too long to receive them. In addition, 24% felt they had not seen services often enough to meet their needs, 59% said they were ‘definitely’ given enough time to discuss their needs and treatment.
  • Around half of all respondents (53%) were ‘definitely’ involved as much as they wanted to be in the planning of their care and 52% of those who have been receiving medicines in the last 12 months were ‘definitely’ involved in making decisions about their medicines as much as they wanted to be. However, 41% had not had the purpose of their medicines discussed with them fully.
  • Most people (97%) who have been told who is in charge of organising their care and services said they knew how to contact this person if they had a concern with 91% saying the person that organised their care did so ‘very well’ or ‘quite well’ However, 28% said they had not been told who is in charge of organising their care.

The survey results have been released for providers to review the experiences of people who use their services and to make improvements where needed. CQC will continue to use the findings as part of its wider monitoring of the quality of mental healthcare and to plan its inspections.

Dr Kevin Cleary, CQC’s Deputy Chief Inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said:

“Community mental health services play a crucial role in providing ongoing care to people with mental health conditions as close to home as possible, and can help prevent people from needing inpatient care. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the delivery of community mental health services, many NHS trusts have adapted quickly to deliver face-to-face services virtually while other services were temporarily closed.

“Some people will have been unable to attend their regular appointments with community mental health teams during the first national lockdown, which started in March, this will almost certainly have a knock-on impact on the number of people seeking crisis care. It is therefore disappointing to see in this survey, that people are having poor experiences of community mental health services, particularly in relation to crisis care, access and involvement in decisions about their care.

“It is also a worry that people didn’t always get help with their physical health needs or with financial advice and benefits, particularly in light of the wider health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. There is likely to be even more demand for the vital services provided by community mental health teams as a result of the pandemic.

“We anticipate that community mental health teams and services will continue to implement the commitments of the NHS Long Term Plan (LTP), to improve and widen access to care for children and adults needing mental health support for common or severe mental illnesses. We also hope community mental health services are given the necessary support to be able to meet demand both in the short and long term, and that commissioners ensure that available new NHS LTP funding flows to frontline services.”


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About the Care Quality Commission

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of health and social care in England.

We make sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and we encourage care services to improve.

We monitor, inspect and regulate services to make sure they meet fundamental standards of quality and safety and we publish what we find to help people choose care.