We've only just begun
Posted Monday 18 October 2010
The party conference season is now over, ending three weeks of intense discussions and debates. The third conference is traditionally the Conservatives. As one of the parties of power, it was the biggest of the three, and the big message over all the conference was "together in the national interest". We met ministers and MPs who were interested in mental health and understood our concerns.
Across the three conferences, there have been two major themes for us -the forthcoming changes to the NHS, and the changes to welfare reform. In both cases, it became clear that there are many ideas and proposals being discussed, but still a lack of clarity about what will actually happen in the end. Much of it rests on the results of the spending review this week.
In health reforms, the discussion is all about the GP commissioning ideas, more competition within the NHS, and then (and only then) the "patient experience". It feels to me that there's a real opportunity to create a better service which is more responsive and joins up physical and mental health care, but with all the focus on structural reforms, we must ensure that the quality of services 'on the ground' is not overlooked. We took the opportunity to reiterate the need for further access to talking therapies as our report highlighted the level of unmet need which still exists.
In welfare, we had an useful meeting with Chris Grayling, the Minister of State with responsibility for many of the welfare changes, where I shared with him many of the fears our supporters have expressed on this blog. He was clear that he appreciates the concerns of people on Incapacity Benefit, and stressed that the political rhetoric is not aimed at those who cannot work due to their ill health.
He told us that he recognises the limitations of the Work Capability Assessment and wants to get it right, and will give serious attention to the results of the Independent review and the pilots. Much of what he said was reiterated in his interview on Radio 4 last Monday as the pilots were launched. Mind was one of several organisations who spoke out about our concerns, and we made our points very plainly both publicly and privately. Many thanks to all those who contributed to our evidence for the Independent Review and shared their thoughts in other ways. As many of you will know, I sit on the Scrutiny Panel for that review, and will be using my position to ensure that your concerns are heard by government.
This week, as the dust has settled, the real impact of the proposed cuts is becoming visible – changing eligibility criteria so that services are open to fewer people, cutting services because they don't fit anymore. We'd like to hear your examples of "knee jerk cuts". Of course services need to change, and work more effectively together, and it certainly appears that mental health is not being singled out – in fact in some places it's being seen as a key priority – but I worry about the impact of these cuts on the lives of many vulnerable people.
Party conferences may be over, but our work with the new Government has only just begun.
Paul Farmer, Mind's Chief Executive
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