"Putting mental health on a par with physical health in the NHS remains a major challenge for the whole health and care system," Centre for Mental Health deputy chief executive Andy Bell said today.

Responding to two major new reports, Andy Bell said: "The Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation's Quality Watch report is a stark reminder of the distance we have to travel to put access to mental health care on a par with that for physical health services. It shows that people wait longer for mental health treatment than for other forms of health care, including in A&E where almost a quarter of people who wait more than four hours are users of mental health services. And a third of people wait more than 18 weeks for a first outpatient appointment for mental health care."

The Quality Watch report also points out some major gaps in available data, including how long people with long-term mental health problems wait for psychological therapy. Today's National Audit of Schizophrenia, published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, finds that less than 40% of people with schizophrenia are offered psychological therapies despite the evidence about their benefits.

Andy Bell said: "The National Audit shows how far we have to go to ensure people with schizophrenia have access to the treatment and support NICE guidelines say should be offered. It reports that less than half of people who would like to work are offered help despite clear evidence about the value of work to many people’s recovery journeys and the effectiveness of Individual Placement and Support. And it reminds us how important it is that physical health care is improved for people with schizophrenia, from first episode onwards.

"The Government has this week made some very significant commitments to improving access to mental health care and reducing the unacceptably long waits many children and adults experience. It has also committed to improve data about the quality of care people receive and to continue to tackle stigma and discrimination through the Time to Change programme.

"The evidence published today reinforces the case for these initiatives and for targeted investment in effective mental health support to rebalance the NHS. This should include faster help in a crisis, timely access to treatments backed by NICE, and a bigger focus on early intervention for both children and adults and on support that helps people to recover on their own terms."