We sent our manifesto to all parties in the upcoming General Election and asked them to write a blog about how they will approach mental health if they form the next government. Here's what the Liberal Democrats had to say.
There’s a lot more at stake in this election than Brexit. Mental health has been brought out of the shadows in recent years – but even though two in every three Britons have experienced mental ill health at some point in their lives, access to support and treatment is still dreadfully poor.
We are now at a crossroads in the mission to end this historic injustice, and progress in the next parliament will be critical.
When I served Care Minister in the Coalition Government, I made it my priority to end the scandalous neglect of mental health. I set out to tackle the discrimination at the heart of our NHS, where people with mental ill health do not have the same right to access treatment, on a timely basis, as people with a physical condition.
And I am incredibly proud of the great strides we made. Investing in talking therapies to treble the number of people entering treatment. Introducing the first ever waiting time standards in mental health. Launching a bold plan to revolutionise children’s mental health services, backed by £1.25bn extra funding.
Sadly, this momentum has slipped under the Conservatives. Theresa May makes great claims about addressing ‘burning injustice’ of inadequate mental health support, but there is a growing gap between rhetoric and the reality on the ground. Services are being stretched beyond breaking point, with many facing cuts or closure.
Left to their own devices, the Conservatives are also failing to uphold the pledges we made in Coalition. In the first year of our plan to modernise children’s mental health care, only £143m materialised instead of the £250m originally promised. When so many young people are already missing out on the treatment they need, there is no doubt that the consequences of this betrayal will be damaging.
Ultimately, we will never achieve equality for mental health with an under-funded NHS.
That’s the bottom line – which is why the Liberal Democrats have set out a comprehensive plan to put an extra £6 billion a year into the NHS and social care, paid for by an extra 1p on income tax. But we’ve also gone one step further, announcing that £1 billion of that money would be ring-fenced for mental health services, to raise standards to the levels we expect for physical health.
When it comes to spending that £1bn, we have identified twelve key priorities.
To address the imbalance of access rights that currently exists in the NHS, we would invest in comprehensive access and waiting time standards for mental health care, so that these services are subject to the same scrutiny as A&E and cancer treatment. This was central to the vision of the Coalition Government – but again, the Conservatives have failed to commit the resources to make it happen. Without that funding, these standards will remain a fantasy.
Tackling the unparalleled crisis in children and young people’s mental health is also a priority.
Even though more young people are experiencing mental health problems than ever before, specialist services are turning away one in four of the children referred to them for treatment. In some places, high thresholds for treatment mean that children do not receive support for eating disorders or suicidal thoughts until they are seriously ill.
We are letting down an entire generation of young people by allowing this to continue. The Liberal Democrats would deliver the funding needed to implement the Future in Mind plan in full, and establish a stronger role for schools in promoting good mental health – training teachers to identify mental health problems, ensuring that counselling services are available to pupils, and making mental health education a mandatory part of the national curriculum.
We will also promote the vital role of employers in improving the mental health of the nation. We are advocating the introduction of a ‘Wellbeing Premium’, a discount on business rates or National Insurance for companies that take clear action to improve the wellbeing of their workforce. This is scheduled to be trialled in the West Midlands with Government and NHS England funding, but the advantages for employers, staff and government are clear: improved wellbeing, higher productivity, reduced sickness absence, less strain on the NHS, and savings to the benefits bill.
And we’re not stopping there. Transforming community-based services for eating disorders and perinatal mental health. A national Zero Suicide ambition for NHS organisations. Ending the heavy use of force in mental health units. Investing in local support to end the scandal of people with mental ill health being shunted across the country to get the care they need. Getting people with learning disabilities and autism out of big institutions, where they are often treated as second class citizens, and supporting them to live as full members of their community.
Mental ill health costs Britain more than £100 billion a year, and failure to provide the right support ruins lives, wastes potential and places unnecessary strain on the NHS. It is morally wrong and economically stupid not to act.
This historic injustice has gone on long enough. It’s time we delivered genuine equality for people with mental ill health. It will take an ambitious plan, a realistic way to pay for it, and the determination to see it through. That is what the Liberal Democrats are offering at this election. Being outside government has been frustrating on a personal level, but that hasn’t affected my determination to fight for change.