This paper sets out how we used NHS administrative data to compare the characteristics of A&E attendances by mental health service users to those of the rest of the population.

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In April 2016, our report on Mental health services: preparations for improving access examined the arrangements being put in place by the Department of Health and NHS England to implement access and waiting times standards for mental health.

We reported a clear consensus that ‘parity of esteem’ between mental health and physical health is an important objective for the NHS. However, we found that data were not available to understand the gap between existing services and what would be needed to achieve parity of esteem.

There is already evidence that patients with mental illness make up a disproportionate number of frequent A&E attenders, receive more investigations, and arrive and leave in different ways compared to A&E users without a known mental health diagnosis. As part of our study, we explored whether and how much these distinctive characteristics can be linked to differences between the two patient populations.