MOST people with severe mental illnesses in the Herefordshire and Worcestershire area missed crucial health checks last year, despite being at risk of premature death. 

Those with conditions like schizophrenia, psychosis or personality disorders are likely to die up to 20 years earlier than the general population, according to the NHS.

To combat the problem, the health service pledged to ensure 280,000 people a year would have comprehensive physical health checks by 2021.

But fewer than one in five of the severely mentally ill people in the area received the potentially life-saving check-ups in 2020 - the target for England is 60%.

NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCG data suggests that health services are struggling to ensure those eligible undergo a comprehensive physical examination annually.

The NHS and mental health charity Mind are urging people to attend their checks, suggesting that the impact of Covid-19 has underlined the importance of ensuring those with mental health problems can access support to manage their physical well-being.

Stark levels of premature death for those with severe mental illnesses are linked to preventable or treatable problems such as heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes and hypertension. Experts believe the deaths of as many as two out of three could be avoided.

The comprehensive annual check has six elements relating to the monitoring of alcohol consumption, smoking, blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Across England last year, just over 110,500 people underwent the full check-up - around a fifth of those thought to have severe mental illnesses and less than half of the number needed to meet the NHS target.

There are thought to be 6,369 people eligible for the checks in the Herefordshire and Worcestershire area, but due to Covid-19 impacting data collection, the figures for 2020 reflect 82% of them. Of those, 931 - 18% - had the full examination.

In 2019, just two trusts in England hit the 60% target.

The most common check locally last year was body mass index monitoring, while the least attended was for alcohol consumption.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, urged eligible people to attend their annual checks and said it was crucial to understand the reasons behind poor health outcomes.

He said side effects of medication, underlying health conditions and social factors such as housing, employment and financial inequality could have an impact on health, adding: “The earlier you receive help for your mental and physical health, the more likely you are to benefit from treatment.”

An NHS spokeswoman said almost £1bn was being invested in an effort to improve community mental health services by 2023/24, including improvements to physical health care to ensure 390,000 people with severe mental illness receive their yearly checks.

She added: “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic it is important now more than ever that the local NHS services adapt and offer flexible options to keep people safe from the virus while supporting the physical health of people with severe mental health problems.

“Our message to anyone experiencing poor mental health is that the NHS is here for you, please help us help you, and come forward for the care you need.”