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We must not overlook the physical health of those with mental illness

10th October 2019

Dr. Ofra Koffman, Senior Project Manager, Healthy London Partnership

Those with a severe mental illness suffer poor physical health compared with those without these illnesses and are likely to die younger as a result.

More than 100,000 Londoners are living with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Current statistics suggest that individuals with these illnesses are likely to die 15–20 years earlier than people without them. Today for World Mental Health Day it’s important to remember that mental illness can have a significant impact on a person’s physical health.

People living with severe mental illness have significantly higher risk for developing obesity and diabetes. They are three times more likely to smoke and suffer from high blood pressure. The risk for developing liver disease or respiratory disease are also much higher.

The NHS has made a commitment that this year 60 per cent of Londoners living with a severe mental illness will receive a physical health assessment and be referred to appropriate treatment or support where those are needed. The NHS Long Term Plan has articulated a commitment to increase the number of patients receiving the check further: by 23/24 an additional 20,000 Londoners with severe mental illness will receive the check each year.

The London Mental Health Transformation Programme has been working over the last 3 years to improve the physical health of people with severe mental illness. We have been supporting clinicians and commissioners to deliver the annual physical health checks and to improve the physical health care of people with severe mental illness. Our programme developed Stolen Years, an online resource, which includes tools, recommendations and information to support the work of clinicians delivering improvements in the physical health of people with severe mental illness.

We have also established a peer network for senior clinicians leading on physical health within their secondary mental health trusts and have co-ordinated an improvement collaborative with all the mental health trusts in London. We have also participated in collaborative efforts, such as the Equally Well initiative, bringing together mental health charities, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and mental health Trusts.

The latest data capturing the number of physical health checks performed suggests that progress has been uneven across different parts of London and that in some areas there are still significant improvements that need to be made. However, working with incredibly committed clinicians and commissioners we are confident that will continue to see improvement in the physical health care offered to Londoners with severe mental illness and address this stark health inequality.

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