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Although many mental health care systems provide care interventions that are not related to direct health care, little is known about the interfaces between the latter and core health care. ‘Core health care’ refers to services whose explicit aim is direct clinical treatment which is usually provided by health professionals, i.e., physicians, nurses, psychologists. ‘Other care’ is typically provided by other staff and includes accommodation, training, promotion of independence, employment support and social skills. In such a definition, ‘other care’ does not necessarily mean being funded or governed differently. The aims of the study were: (1) using a standard classification system (Description and Evaluation of Services and Directories in Europe for Long Term Care, DESDE-LTC) to identify ‘core health’ and ‘other care’ services provided to adults with mental health problems; and (2) to investigate the balance of care by analysing the types and characteristics of core health and other care services.
The study was conducted in eight selected local areas in eight European countries with different mental health systems. All publicly funded mental health services, regardless of the funding agency, for people over 18 years old were identified and coded. The availability, capacity and the workforce of the local mental health services were described using their functional main activity or ‘Main Types of Care’ (MTC) as the standard for international comparison, following the DESDE-LTC system.
In these European study areas, 822 MTCs were identified as providing core health care and 448 provided other types of care. Even though one-third of mental health services in the selected study areas provided interventions that were coded as ‘other care’, significant variation was found in the typology and characteristics of these services across the eight study areas.
The functional distinction between core health and other care overcomes the traditional division between ‘health’ and ‘social’ sectors based on governance and funding. The overall balance between core health and other care services varied significantly across the European sites. Mental health systems cannot be understood or planned without taking into account the availability and capacity of all services specifically available for this target population, including those outside the health sector.
There is a need of more quantitative standardised data to compare local Mental Health Systems (MHSs) across international jurisdictions. Problems related to terminological variability and commensurability in the evaluation of services hamper like-with-like comparisons and hinder the development of work in this area. This study was aimed to provide standard assessment and comparison of MHS in selected local areas in Europe, contributing to a better understanding of MHS and related allocation of resources at local level and to lessen the scarcity in standard service comparison in Europe. This study is part of the Seventh Framework programme REFINEMENT (Research on Financing Systems’ Effect on the Quality of Mental Health Care in Europe) project.
A total of eight study areas from European countries with different systems of care (Austria, England, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, Romania, Spain) were analysed using a standard open-access classification system (Description and Evaluation of Services for Long Term Care in Europe, DESDE-LTC). All publicly funded services universally accessible to adults (≥18 years) with a psychiatric disorder were coded. Care availability, diversity and capacity were compared across these eight local MHS.
The comparison of MHS revealed more community-oriented delivery systems in the areas of England (Hampshire) and Southern European countries (Verona – Italy and Girona – Spain). Community-oriented systems with a higher proportion of hospital care were identified in Austria (Industrieviertel) and Scandinavian countries (Sør-Trøndelag in Norway and Helsinki-Uusimaa in Finland), while Loiret (France) was considered as a predominantly hospital-based system. The MHS in Suceava (Romania) was still in transition to community care.
There is a significant variation in care availability and capacity across MHS of local areas in Europe. This information is relevant for understanding the process of implementation of community-oriented mental health care in local areas. Standard comparison of care provision in local areas is important for context analysis and policy planning.
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