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by GK Strategy 22nd February, 2016
3 min read

Will mental health finally get the parity it deserves?

It is undeniable that mental health has become a pressing issue in today’s society, growing in visibility and significance. There is a genuine demand and appetite for change in the way mental health services are delivered. However, the historical gap between government rhetoric and recurrent underfunding begs the question of whether true parity between mental and physical heath is realistic.

Last week the Independent Commission –  led by Former NHS Chief Executive Lord Crisp and supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists – on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care published a report titled ‘Old Problems, New Solutions: Improving acute psychiatric care for adults in England’. The title is arguably symptomatic of old problems unaddressed for years but optimistic of new solutions on how to tackle the lack of equality between mental and physical health.

Recommendations include significant changes to how services are commissioned, organised and monitored as well as a four-hour waiting time target and an end to long distance transfers. Adding weight to these claims, statistics from 2014-15 show more than 100,000 people were admitted to hospital as a result of a mental health related issue. Moreover, it is estimated that around 500 mentally ill people travel over 50km for a bed each month due to a shortage of beds and a lack of alternative care and treatment in their communities.

The beginning of this week saw the publication of ‘The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’ – a report by the Independent Mental Health Taskforce, chaired by Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind. It manifests itself as the first strategic approach to improving mental health outcomes across the system and successfully builds on substantial engagement with those who have personal experience of mental health problems, families, carers and professionals, as well as clinical and economic evidence.

The report marks a move away from observation and signals a time for action on key issues such as prevention, early intervention, access to crisis care and better integration; necessary changes fit for a 21st century population. National leadership and local delivery are key components to ensure prioritisation of issues and successful implementation of the recommendations.

Following the report, the government performed its due diligence and committed to investing £1bn into mental health care by 2021 and providing mental health support for a million more people; one can only hope the government continue this long overdue momentum and fully integrate mental health into the wider healthcare system.

However, as with all investment, the devil is in the detail. Primarily, the £1bn is not new money and rather will be deducted from money allocated in November’s Spending Review. As such, with current financial deficits pervading the entire NHS, there is a risk that money might be diverted. Another question is whether investment will be back-loaded, a real possibility for a Government that has made it a habit – exemplified by the Better Care Fund. Through intense lobbying, Simon Stevens was able to secure agreement from George Osborne for a significant portion of the £8bn funding for the NHS to be front-loaded; however, this was a rare exception. Moreover, where does accountability lie for ensuring that investment gets directed into priority areas?

The time has come to drive forward improvements to deal with the fragmented nature of mental health services and abolish the “postcode lottery of investment”, according to Stephen Dalton, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Network. True transformation is dependent on the Government matching their rhetoric to the reality of people’s experiences; we wait with bated breath.

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