An annual survey from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), has found  that people’s experiences of mental health care continue to be poor, with people’s experience of some areas of care at their lowest point in eight years.

CQC’s Community Mental Health Survey published on 1 December 2021 shows that nearly half of respondents reported that their mental health had deteriorated due to changes made to their care and treatment due to the pandemic.

This year’s survey received responses from 17,322 people who used NHS community mental health services in England in 2020 and 2021.

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 compared to those aged 66 and older.

The survey found people who received telephone-based care reported worse than average experiences in the key themes of overall experience, access, communication and respect and dignity. In contrast, people who received care using video conferencing technology reported better than average experiences in these areas.

The findings include:

  • Over a quarter of people (26%) would not know who to contact out of hours in the NHS if they had a crisis. Of those who did try to contact this person or team, a fifth did not get the help they needed (20%) or could not contact them (3%).
  • Almost a fifth of people (17%) reported care and services were not available when they needed them in the last 12 months.
  • Only 56% of people were given enough time to discuss their needs and treatment. This is the lowest result for this question in eight years.
  • Just two in five people (41%) said they had “definitely” seen enough of the services they relied upon to manage their condition.
  • Of those who had been told who is in charge of organising their care, 96% knew how to contact this person or team. Similarly, 90% of people felt the person who organised their care did so ‘very well’ or ‘quite well’.

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 in England.

Jemima Burnage, CQC’s Deputy Chief Inspector and lead for mental health said:

“Not being able to access the right care and support when it is needed increases the risk of an individuals’ mental health deteriorating. This is a longstanding challenge, which has been exacerbated by the increased demand on mental health services due to COVID-19. It is therefore deeply concerning to see that people’s experiences of community mental health services are so poor, particularly at a time when the number of people needing expert care for a mental health condition has increased.

“The pandemic has placed severe strain on all health services and the staff working in them, including mental health services. The negative impact of working under this sustained pressure, including anxiety, stress and burnout, cannot be underestimated. As we have previously reported, people’s experiences of mental health services were poor prior to the pandemic, which is why it has never been more important that services are given the right support to be able to meet increased demand.

“The NHS Long Term Plan made a number of commitments for mental health services, some of which have been implemented, and this work must continue so people are able to access the right care when they need it. The development of Integrated Care Systems is also a vital opportunity for mental health services to become more joined up with other services, improving outcomes for people with long-term mental health conditions and achieving true parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”