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The mental health system in Lombardy, Italy: access to services and patterns of care

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Abstract

Purpose

The psychiatric reform in Italy devolved to the regions the responsibility of implementing community psychiatric care. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the mental health system in Lombardy by assessing changes in accessibility and patterns of care occurred between 1999 and 2009.

Methods

Data on mental health services were collected through the regional mental health information system and analyzed in terms of treated prevalence, treated incidence, continuity of care and packages of care.

Results

Both treated incidence and treated prevalence in Lombardy increased between 1999 and 2009. There was an increasing access to psychiatric services of people with a better social integration. Incidence of schizophrenic and personality disorders decreased and that of affective and neurotic disorders increased dramatically, while increase in prevalence concerned all diagnostic groups. The percentage of patients in continuous care remained stable and was generally low. The majority of cases, even those with schizophrenia, are cared for on outpatient basis. The percentage of patients receiving integrated multiprofessional care declined. Rates of admission to inpatient services remained low and within the inpatient sector a shift from hospital towards residential care emerged, with decreasing hospital utilization and an increase in size of patient population entering community residences. Treatment gap is still a problem in schizophrenic disorders.

Conclusions

The Lombardy mental health system is strongly based on community care. However, it is reaching a turning point and it needs to be improved in some key areas: the shifting balance towards the care of common mental disorders, in the absence of resource allocations targeted to severely mentally ill, may hinder the system ability to deal with more disabled people. A focus on early intervention and an improvement of continuity of care for people with severe mental disorder, by strengthening community teams, is a priority.

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Correspondence to Antonio Lora.

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Lora, A., Barbato, A., Cerati, G. et al. The mental health system in Lombardy, Italy: access to services and patterns of care. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 47, 447–454 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-011-0352-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-011-0352-1

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