Mental health charities say the government’s broken promise to produce a new strategy focused on mental health “risks letting down the one in four people in the UK impacted by mental illness”. Instead ministers plan to include mental health within a broader Major Conditions Strategy, along with chronic physical conditions, such as cancer and respiratory disease.
A coalition of charities in the mental health sector, including the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, YoungMinds, and Samaritans, are now concerned that this move will mean there will be no long-term mental health strategy to tackle the root causes of mental health problems or provide people with the care they need and the one promised last year has been scrapped.
Chronic physical conditions predominantly affect older people, whereas mental health conditions are spread across age groups and need preventative action at a young age, as Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation noted:
“The merging of the mental health plan with a Major Conditions Strategy risks excluding our children and young people, who are less likely to experience chronic ill-health, yet are the most likely to benefit from early action to protect their mental health. Prevention should be at the heart of the new plan – for all the conditions it will cover – but the government’s emphasis is on the other end of life: extending people’s healthy life expectancy.
“We need sustained investment in high-quality person-centred support for mental health and social care services, but a percentage of NHS spend should be dedicated to preventative mental health interventions, working with and developing alongside people who are more likely to experience a mental health difficulty.”
Mental health services have been waiting years to be funded appropriately and for a long-term strategy, with each year seeming to produce a new report about how many people, in particular children and adolescents, are being let down by mental health services and increasing waiting lists. Andy Bell, interim Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said:
“It is now twelve years since the last cross-government mental health strategy was published. A lot has changed since then, including rising rates of mental ill-health. We urgently need a plan across the whole of government to help to create a mentally healthier society, to tackle the inequalities and injustices that create mental ill-health and to support public service to meet people’s needs more effectively.”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive NHS Providers, noted in a recent article in the HSJ that although there has been “significant growth in the overall number of children and young people being seen by mental health services”, the services are “still coming up desperately short.”
The NHS Providers latest survey, found that 88% of mental health and learning disability trust leaders, and 97% of combined mental health and community trust leaders, said they were worried or very worried about their capacity to meet demand over the next 12 months, with several highlighting challenges with children’s services in particular.
The Parliamentary and health service ombudsman (PHSO) Rob Behrens has warned that people with eating disorders are being repeatedly failed by the system and radical changes need to be made to prevent further tragedies. Ombudsman Rob Behrens said:
“We raised concerns six years ago in our Ignoring the Alarms report, so it’s extremely disappointing to see the same issues are still occurring. Small steps in improvements have been taken, but progress has been slow, and we need to see a much bigger shift in the way eating disorder services are delivered.”
Children and adolescent eating disorder (ED) services were targeted around 2015 with extra money, which did save lives, but these children grew up and adult ED services did not receive the same attention or investment and are often now not available to provide continued support.
Lives continue to be lost because rather than creating parity between child and adult services and improving coordination between those involved in treating patients, the money was targeted at just one group of patients. This highlights strongly the need to take a long-term strategy in mental health.
Research by HSJ journalists has identified that since 2017 at least 19 women have died, whose death and care caused concerns from coroners. And at least 15 of these deaths were considered avoidable, and resulted in formal warnings being issued to mental health chiefs.
HSJ noted that they had been told by senior eating disorder clinicians that a “massive gap” remains between child and adult services, largely attributed to unequal investment.
Ashish Kumar, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Mersey Care, told HSJ:
“They invested in children’s eating disorders but missed adults completely – there is still no matching crossover service.”
HSJ’s research is the subject of an open letter to the health and social care secretary Steve Barclay by eating disorder charity Beat who warned the findings reveal a “national crisis”. Beat is calling for increased teaching in medical schools on eating disorders with its “Worth more than 2 hours” campaign, following research that shows on average, UK undergraduate medical students receive less than two hours of teaching on eating disorders, throughout their entire medical degree and 20% of medical schools do not include eating disorders at all in their teaching.
Update 27 February 10:04 with information from the Ombudsman
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