A damning report has highlighted the sub-standard care provided for schizophrenics.
Treatment delays, a lack of information, poor life expectancy and patchy GP support were condemned in research by mental health charity Sane.
It found that 63 per cent of schizophrenia patients needed five visits to doctors before getting a diagnosis and 58 per cent said they received no information about the illness and how to deal with it.
Marjorie Wallace, Sane’s chief executive, said: “It is still a condition that is feared by everyone from patients to professionals and it is a national shame that we have not improved treatment for people with schizophrenia.
“I feel very sad that I am still hearing the same stories from patients and families that made me set up Sane 25 years ago.” Schizophrenia affects about one in 100 and costs the UK £11.8billion a year in care and lost production. Life expectancy is 15 to 20 years less than the general population.
The Living With Schizophrenia report, compiled from interviews, accepted that doctors often delayed diagnosis for fear of giving patients a stigma but it added that delays and confusion in treatment strategies caused mistrust among patients and heightened the risk of relapse with lengthy hospital stays.
“Inappropriate treatment has the potential to destabilise a person’s condition further,” the report said. “However, GPs and psychiatrists also have to be cautious when making a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
“Such a diagnosis can often be a very traumatic experience for many and has the potential to generate stigma as well as unwarranted pessimism.
“Our research suggests that more needs to be done to ensure appropriate services are available and people are being referred as early as possible.”
The report called for better and swifter access to psychological services to avoid hospital stays and more support for physical health to correct the life expectancy imbalance.