Briefing 55: Integrated Care Systems and mental health

19 February 2020

How could Integrated Care Systems bring about significant and lasting improvement for people’s mental health?

Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) bring together all NHS organisations and upper tier local authorities in a geographical area to plan health and care services together across the system. They are responsible for implementing key aspects of the NHS Long Term Plan, including planned improvements to mental health services.

Integrated Care Systems have a unique opportunity to bring mental and physical health together in an equal partnership to deliver better health for all. This briefing sets out how improving mental health can prevent other health problems, and make the whole NHS more effective and efficient. 

Integrated Care Systems and mental health identifies three key opportunities for system leaders to take:

  1. Preventing ill health
    Poor mental health can be a major contributor to poor physical health. Investing in preventing mental health difficulties could bring about improvements in overall health and generate significant savings long-term.
  2. Linking physical and mental health
    Having a long-term physical illness doubles a person’s chances of having a mental health difficulty. Likewise, having a long-term mental illness increases a person’s risk of physical ill health. ICSs can help to ensure that all physical health interventions are equally accessible to people with mental health conditions, and that people with long-term physical conditions get effective mental health support.
  3. Improving mental health services
    ICSs have the ability to tackle systemic issues in mental health service provision beyond the local level, such as in addressing the prevalence of ‘out of area placements’ and the overuse of long-term hospital placements for people with learning disabilities and autism under the Mental Health Act.

This briefing also highlights several challenges facing ICSs, such as whether mental health will get prioritised, how the workforce can be sufficiently expanded, and how well ICSs work in partnership with local authorities, voluntary and community groups and people who use health and care services.

Integrated Care Systems, and those who work in them, have a unique window of opportunity now to put mental health first, not last, on their agenda. Greater equality for mental health is within reach if they are prepared to make it a reality through their practice.

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