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How can pharma help the NHS drive much-needed change in mental health services?

Laurence Mascarenhas, of Wilmington Healthcare, assesses how pharma can help the NHS to achieve Parity of Esteem (PoE) in mental health


One in four British adults will suffer at least one mental health disorder in any given year; 1.2m people in England have a learning disability and more than one million people will have dementia by 2021.* However, despite the prevalence of mental health problems, only a quarter of people with illnesses, such as depression, are receiving treatment, according to NHS England.  

Tackling the issues that lie behind these statistics and ensuring that mental health is given the same priority as physical health is now a key Government priority, driven by NHS England’s Parity of Esteem (PoE) Programme. The PoE programme aims to achieve this through prevention, early intervention, access to crisis care on a 24/7 basis and better integration of mental and physical healthcare.  

What are the key barriers to PoE?

There is still a lot of stigma attached to mental health problems and although the situation is slowly improving, many people refuse to seek help for fear of discrimination at home and at work.    

If individuals do visit their GP, opportunities to refer them on to appropriate care are often missed because many GPs have a limited understanding of the complexity of mental health and they may also be unaware of the services available in their local area.  

Furthermore, while it is widely accepted that physical and mental health problems often go hand in hand, they tend to be treated in isolation by healthcare professionals. The fact that the police, Social Services, mental health and other NHS services work in isolation is also a problem.  

Changes that could help to achieve PoE

Early intervention is key and GPs should be looking to refer patients to services such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPTs) - a 16-week programme designed for people with anxiety and depression that can be accessed via all mental health trusts in England.  

If one GP in each practice held a specific qualification, such as a mental health diploma, this could dramatically increase the number of patients diagnosed within primary care and referred to appropriate services.  

A more integrated approach is needed for mental and physical healthcare. This would see, for example, those with long-term physical health problems getting regular reviews of their mental health, and people with mental health issues receiving appropriate intervention and support to address associated physical health risk behaviours. 

Joined up working between the NHS, police and Social Services is essential, and there should also be a greater emphasis on rehabilitation; Recovery Colleges should be a key part of the patient pathway to help people get back on track and promote self-care.

How can pharma help?

There is a big role for pharma in funding research and conducting clinical trials to further explore the side effects of drugs which are used for conditions, ranging from diabetes to dementia, and are known to cause psychosis.  

The cash-strapped NHS has a culture of prescribing the cheapest drugs. Pharma needs to convince commissioners and providers of the value of mental health drugs, which may be more expensive to buy, but will save money in the long-run because they are more effective.

Pharma can also provide support with adherence by making medicines and the administration of them more user-friendly.  It could also offer training for care workers to help ensure that people with mental health conditions take their medicines as prescribed.  

Data is also key. By analysing the wealth of patient data that already exists, such as Hospital Episodes Statistics (HES) data and Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Data, pharma can identify important trends, gaps and needs that will lead to significant improvements in patient care.  


To help improve treatments and outcomes in mental health, pharma could: fund research and conduct clinical trials to further explore the side effects of drugs; educate commissioners and providers on the efficacy and long-term savings that can be generated from specific drugs, and provide support on adherence. In addition, the industry can harness the power of data to help the NHS identify trends and opportunities to make a real difference to patient care and outcomes.


*Statistics from NHS England

Laurence Mascarenhas is an Associate Director at Wilmington Healthcare.
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5th January 2017



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Wilmington Healthcare

01268 495600

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