Around one in five people living with severe mental illness in Dorset received a full physical check last year that could prevent early death – despite an NHS target of 60%

The Mental Health Foundation said the low number of checks across England was “shocking but not surprising”, with mental illness often overshadowing their physical health, even though the two should be treated equally.

NHS England data shows that there were 7,976 people with severe mental illness in the NHS Dorset CCG area in 2018-19, but only 1,471 received a full physical check-up.

This was 18.4% of people with mental illness covered by the CCG, despite the target being set at 60%.

Physical health examinations include checks for alcohol consumption, blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index and smoking status.

The most common check performed in Dorset was blood pressure with 5,599 of patients having their levels recorded, while cholesterol was the least common, with 3,204. Just one of the CCGs which submitted their data met the target, NHS City and Hackney CCG.

NHS West Hampshire failed to carry out the full checks for any the 4,329 people with serious mental illness in the area.

NHS England has published guidance to improve the quality of physical health care for people with severe mental illness in primary care, to help ensure that at least 280,000 examined each of the next three years.

However, according to the most recent data, which covered the 12 months to June, only 144,160 people out of 489,185 received a full health check last year, 29.5%.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: “People with severe mental illnesses lose as much as 17 years of natural life expectancy compared with the general population.

“Some of this may be directly due to their mental illness, but much is likely to be the result of the neglect of their physical health.

“It is all too easy for professionals to overlook the physical health of a person presenting with serious mental ill-health. But it is vital to treat both mental and physical symptoms with equal care and to support people with serious mental health problems to adopt and sustain a healthier lifestyle.”

NHS England has said that it is committed to “leading work to reduce premature mortality among people living with severe mental illness”, reducing the risk from preventable serious illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

An NHS spokesperson said that, while fewer than a third of people received all of the checks, 72% received blood pressure checks, 69% received smoking status checks and 68% had an alcohol consumption test.

“The NHS is investing almost £1 billion to improve community mental health services, so an extra 390,000 patients with severe mental illness will receive a check by 2023-24, and it is now up to CCGs to deliver on this promise,” the NHS added.