Louise Rubin, who works in our campaigns team, responds to the speech Theresa May gave earlier this week.
This week Theresa May set out her views on mental health. She was not the first Prime Minister to speak about mental health – almost a year ago to the day, David Cameron communicated his plans for improving mental health as part of his ‘life chances’ speech. But this certainly was the most in-depth speech we’ve ever had from a Prime Minister and as a result there was a huge amount of media coverage and political interest. Whatever one might think of the content of the speech, we can all celebrate the fact mental health has moved so far up the political and public agenda.
It’s worth noting that this was not technically a speech on mental health, it was a speech on “a shared society”, one that “doesn’t just value our individual rights but focuses rather more on the responsibilities we have to one another”. Mrs May presented a long list of social inequalities that the Government must address, but of all the issues she listed, it was the “burning injustice” of inadequate mental health treatment that she wanted to focus on most. In her words, the way we deal with mental health needs to be transformed “not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities”.
She announced mental health first aid training for teachers and staff, efforts to ensure schools and colleges work closer together with local children’s NHS services, and a major review – led by the Care Quality Commission with input from Ofsted – of young people’s services. And she announced that role of employers in improving mental health will be examined in a review led by our own Paul Farmer and Lord Dennis Stevenson.
There was much to be welcomed in the speech. We have been campaigning for years to put mental health at the heart of Government policy and make it ‘everyone’s business’, because we know that coping with mental health problems can be as much about the quality of housing, or the state of your finances, or your personal relationships, as it can be access to services. So it was useful to see the announcements put in the context of wider social reform.
That said, NHS services in parts of the country are in a diabolical state. There is no getting away from the fact that services have been underfunded for decades and suffered significant cuts in the last Parliament. The wider news story over the last few days has been one of an NHS in crisis, and we know all too well that people are struggling to get the support they need. Bed occupancy rates at their highest ever level at 94%. There has been a rise in the number of people sent out of area for a mental health bed. There’s been a 10% increase in the number of people being sectioned, suggesting that people have to be desperately unwell before they can get help. The Prime Minister did announce £15m to provide new models of care so that people had choices beyond going to their GP or A&E, and we welcome this, but it is a very small amount given the scale of the challenge. And for too long, we have witnessed Government make funding announcements only for that money to never materialise on the frontline. Time and time again, money that is intended to improve mental health services gets diverted to alleviate other pressures in the NHS. This simply can’t continue.
Although it got far less media attention, the long awaited Government response to the Five Year Forward View on Mental Health was also published on Monday. The Five Year Forward View was published in February 2016, with work led by our Chief Executive. It is an ambitious plan for transforming mental health services and supports between now and 2021, and its detailed recommendations have already been accepted by NHS England and the Department of Health. £1billion has been provided to make those changes happen. But until Monday, the Government hadn’t formally accepted the recommendations that extended beyond the NHS. Now it has, we have an unambiguous, costed, and approved plan of action for improving the nation’s mental health services and supports.
In a blog earlier this month I set out the work that we will be doing to hold Government to account on these commitments. We know that promises have been made before and never delivered. This time though, we will have access to detailed data from every area of the country that makes it much easier to understand what progress they have, or haven’t, made against the commitments in the Five Year Forward View, and how much money they have put into improving mental health. This transparency will certainly strengthen our ability to campaign for change, and we intend to make sure that every single penny promised in the Five Year Forward View makes it to the frontline.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.