Britain's mental health system is failing more patients than it helps according to two Birmingham University health experts.

The social stigma still attached to many mental health problems prevents some patients from seeking appropriate treatment, and impacts on patient care.

Dr Jon Glasby and Dr Helen Lester, who have written a new book Mental Health Policy and Practice, added that negative public attitudes towards people with such issues can mean they are prevented from making decisions about how to get the best help.

Dr Glasby, head of health and social care at the university's Health Services Management Centre, said: "Looking at the history of mental health care in the UK, it is clear that problems facing services have changed very little over the years.

"Lessons from the past have not been learned, which has meant that the quality of care has not improved as it should.

"The book does recognise the extra injection of cash into services over the last few years but, given the history of underinvestment in mental health, we are starting from a very low base.

"It is also hard not to avoid the conclusion that changing the structures of mental health services will not be effective without a significant shift in public attitudes."

The book provides a thorough examination of the history, current state and wider context of mental health services in Britain.

It also highlights a number of failings such as the support and funding for community care. The system requires family members to play an important role in caring for those with mental illness, but provides very little extra funding to help them.

Dr Lester said: "Although there are significant failings in the system, it isn't a wholly negative picture. We also highlight a number of examples of excellent practice, and initiatives to involve patients in a meaningful way in their care.

"In recent years the Government has also given mental health services a higher priority. However, there is still a significant gap between government rhetoric and reality."

"The plan to provide 1,000 Primary Care Mental Workers by 2004 is a good example of this problem. Despite a written commitment, two years after that deadline there are still only 600 people in this role."