Investigation into healthcare inequalities for people with mental illness

The investigation has been prompted by newly-published evidence suggesting that people with a mental illness and people with learning disabilities are amongst the poorest groups in society, that they die at a younger age from preventable diseases, and that they miss out on life-saving screening programmes.

Specifically, the research finds that:

• people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia live on average 9 years less than other people

• diabetes, which can lead to serious health problems and early death, has been estimated to be four to five times more common among people with a severe mental health problem.

The investigation, which begins this month, will examine a number of significant issues in the delivery of healthcare to people with mental illnesses, such as:

• individuals or staff not recognising a health problem, or recognising it too late

• problems registering with, or staying with, a GP

• a lack of accessible information and communication

• ‘diagnostic overshadowing’ – physical symptoms being seen by professionals in terms of the mental health problem or learning disability (for example, palpitations may be seen as ‘all in the mind’ – which can result in the neglect of real physical conditions)

• low take-up of health screening services

• inappropriate stereotypes, negative attitudes and assumptions about the quality of a person’s life held by some healthcare professionals.

Speaking of the investigation, Bert Massie, Chairman of the DRC, said: “Primary healthcare is the gateway to the rest of the health service – ninety per cent of patient journeys begin and end here. It is therefore vital that these two impairment groups are catered for. This Formal Investigation is a positive opportunity to share concerns and best practice on tackling health inequalities and is designed to close the stark health gap.”

Mayur Lakhani, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, commented: “We welcome this investigation. This group of patients has particular needs and yet currently they have poorer health outcomes. It is an important function of GPs to iron out health inequalities – we are committed to promoting excellent care for all patients whatever their needs.”

The investigation will gather evidence from individuals and organisations on the ability of people with a mental illness and people with learning difficulties to access primary care health services in England and Wales. This will be done via a dedicated website where people can register their views, as well as targeted questionnaires, face to face interviews, road-show focus groups and independently chaired formal hearing sessions. To find out more, visit:

For more information on improving physical health as part of your recovery from a mental illness, visit: