An Underfunded Mental Health Strategy Is No Strategy At All

22 Sep 2016
The government’s mental health strategy, like its ‘plan’ for a seven-day NHS, amounts to telling the NHS to do more work without the finance to implement it.

In 2014, the coalition government pledged, with Labour’s support, to work towards achieving “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health access by introducing early intervention standards for people suffering from psychosis.

Early intervention is key. The evidence is clear that if people with mental health conditions enter the system earlier they are considerably more likely to make a recovery. On the other hand, late intervention  diminishes these chances and costs the state more - care for psychosis now costs and NHS an astonishing £11billion each year.

The new rules, which were meant to be implemented in full by April 2016, stipulated that patients National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)-recommended package of care within two weeks of  referral.

In a parliamentary debate called by Normal Lamb MP, one of the architects of the plan, members of parliament discussed how large swathes of the country have summarily ignored the strategy. The sanguine government statistics on its implementation were labelled as “a fiction”.

The demands of the NHS are - conservatively - increasing on average by around 4% each year while the government provides a mere 1% in extra finance, resulting in an inevitable widening shortfall which has cut care standards and shattered staff morale.

The funding crisis has generated a staffing crisis. Each and every month the NHS figures show that it has been consistently missing key physical health targets, for example ambulance response times, A&E waiting times and cancer referral times.

Our health system, the most efficient in the world, is running at full pace but is going backwards due to the fiscal vice the government had kept it trapped within.

It should come as no surprise to ministers that demands from central government for NHS trusts in the most resource stressed parts of the country to fulfil new and ambitious mental health targets will fall on  deaf ears.

The £120m of additional funding for 2014 to 2016 has been used by the NHS to plug finding gaps that have appeared in other areas of acute care.

As a recent Freedom of Information request recently revealed, a third of Clinical Commissioning Groups could not identify how much money had been allocated to to early intervention in psychosis, after the deadline had elapsed for full implementation of the plan.

I believe mental health and physical health should have parity of esteem and our national neglect of the mental health of our citizens is nothing short of a national scandal and a prejudice at the heart of the  NHS.

This is doubly true because black and ethnic minority citizens (BAME) are considerably overrepresented in the mental health system.

I know from direct experience from my own constituency of Hackney that the vast majority -sometimes all - inpatients in psychiatric wards are BAME. The reasons for these are numerous and complex including the facts that BAME are more likely to be poor and therefore suffer the metal afflictions of poverty and they are less likely to seek help in the first place.

Mental health professionals report that mental health problems are on the rise in Britain and it is right that Jeremy Corbyn is prioritising it and has pledged to finance the NHS to address public need. If we are
serious about addressing the growing mental health crisis, we need to provide adequate resources for mental hygiene, particularly to sustain this important early intervention strategy. An underfunded strategy is no strategy at all.

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