Ground-breaking project launches to improve schizophrenia care

The national charity Rethink Mental Illness has teamed up with 11 NHS Trusts across England to launch a ground-breaking project to improve services for people with schizophrenia and psychosis.

The Rethink Mental Illness Innovation Network, launched this month in the House of Commons, will see the Trusts, including Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust (MMHSCT), join with the charity to test new and innovative services for people affected by severe mental illness.

It will focus on issues like improving mental health hospital care, helping people with mental illness get into employment and tackling physical health problems – the latter being a key part of the NIHR CLAHRC for Greater Manchester’s work with MMHSCT and the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre (MAHSC).

This follows a report last year from the charity’s Schizophrenia Commission, which revealed serious failings in the state of care for people with schizophrenia and psychosis. The new project hopes to transform mental health services by putting some of the Commission’s recommendations into practice.

The NIHR CLAHRC for Greater Manchester has already worked closely with Rethink Mental Illness and MMHSCT to find innovative ways to improve the physical health of people with severe and enduring mental illness. Last month, the team presented their work at the Rethink Mental Illness physical health ‘master class’, where the project was demonstrated as a piece of innovative practice for delivering better physical health care.

Research shows that those with a mental illness are more likely to smoke, have a poor diet and be less physically active than the wider population, whilst medication for mental health problems can sometimes lead to weight gain and diabetes, an illness that can often lead to anger, denial, fear or depression. For an individual these factors can have devastating physical health effects and means that those with a severe mental illness can have a life expectancy up to 25 years shorter than that of the general population.

The physical health project with MMHSCT was set up to address the imbalance in health outcomes between individuals with a mental illness and those without. The pilot established a new approach where physical and mental health information is shared at multi-disciplinary team meetings between a GP practice and a Community Physical Health Co-ordinator, who then liaises with an individual’s mental health Care Co-ordinator and the Community Mental Health Area Team.

Dr. Sean Lennon, Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist at MMHSCT, unveiled the outcomes of the project at the Psychiatry and Physical Health national conference in London on 12 and 13 September. The project will be rolled out across Manchester over the next few months and has the potential to form the basis for the development of a national model when the full evaluation is published.