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A task force for mental health

Wednesday, 25 March 2015 Paul Farmer

A new Taskforce is being established to develop a five year national strategy for mental health. Mind CEO, Paul Farmer blogs about his role as chair of the Taskforce and its ambition for the future.

The NHS has set up a mental health taskforce and I am very pleased to have been asked to be the independent chair. The taskforce will have a similar focus to the cancer taskforce the NHS set up in January, looking at the biggest barriers to good care and how we can overcome them. This feels like a significant moment for mental health: the very fact that there is a taskforce for mental health feels like a big step closer towards the ‘parity of esteem’ that we talk about so much.

The last five years have seen some important developments for mental health. The profile of mental health is higher than it’s ever been and, with the general election so close, it’s encouraging to see mental health being talked about by party leaders. People from all walks of life are speaking out about their own experiences with an openness we haven’t seen before and we are starting to see a shift in public attitudes partly because of campaigns like Time to Change and others.

We have also seen some key policy changes and developments, like the Crisis Care Concordat, waiting times for IAPT, a programme to reduce restrictive practice in hospitals and the ambition to end the use of police cells as places of safety. These all have the potential to transform the quality and safety of the care we receive when we are unwell.

But it’s been really difficult for us to properly celebrate these things when we know that daily life has become so much more difficult for many people with mental health problems. Recession, unemployment and welfare reform have left many people struggling and years of underfunding in the NHS means people aren’t getting the help they need, when they need it.

If the last five years have been about talking about mental health, then next five really need to be about action. The mental health taskforce will set out how the NHS can achieve the ambitions it presents in the NHS Five Year Forward View – ambitions, essentially, to put mental health on an equal footing with physical health, to make sure people get the right support at the right time. We need to have recommendations ready for a new government to consider in the summer and we need as part of this to make a good argument for additional investment in mental health services.

To me it goes without saying that the taskforce needs to co-produce the work with people with lived experience, families, clinicians, voluntary sector organisations and providers so we can work together to find the best solutions. We want you to be a part of that process, by telling us what you think the problems are and what we can do about them.

As a starting point, we are looking at three areas: what are the biggest barriers to improving services; what examples of good practice exist that we could learn from and replicate; and what three things would make the biggest difference to mental health services. 

The taskforce has the potential to be the real turning point for mental health, in setting out exactly how we will make sure mental health gets the priority and resourcing it deserves. Help us make sure we get this right.


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