Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has urged NHS commissioners to “step up to the plate” on helping the government achieve parity of esteem for mental health.
In a speech today Mr Clegg launched a new national mental health action plan setting out key aims the government wants to see mental health prioritised to the same extent as physical health.
He said variability in standards of mental healthcare across the country were worse than the “well documented variability in physical health”.
“Some people with mental health problems are still being treated in ways that are frankly unacceptable,” he said, citing long waits for treatment, patients
being transported hundreds of miles for a bed as well as the continued use of face down restraint.
His plan reiterates targets set out in the mandate to NHS England and the government’s mental health strategy. Mr Clegg described it as “a call to action to everyone across the NHS, mental health sector and wider society”.
But his comments came as the mental health sector faces 20% higher cuts to tariff prices set by NHS England and Monitor for 2014-15.
Mr Clegg said the government was taking a “more bold and focused approach to mental health” but accepted these “worthwhile first steps” had not “made enough of a difference for enough people”.
He told a specially organised conference on mental health today: “We recognise we have a mountain to climb. This is a very direct challenge from me as deputy prime minister to commissioners to see what we are saying and to act accordingly.
“Until commissioners recognise what we have said…the promise is not going to be delivered into action,” he said. “Commissioners have got to step up to the plate.”
The plan Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health outlines 25 action areas, which the government claims will make a difference to people with mental health conditions. It builds on the 2011 mental health strategy No Health Without Mental Health
The action plan draws heavily in policies already being used in other parts of the healthcare system, such as waiting time targets and choose and book, as well as extending existing mental health approaches like cognitive behavioural therapy.
Measures highlighted as “key” by the government include:
- Patients will have a choice about where they get their mental healthcare
- From 2015, waiting time standards will begin to be introduced for mental health
- The Friends and Family Test will be rolled out to mental health services so patients can give feedback on their care
- Talking therapies will be expanded so 300,000 more people will get help on top of the current 600,000
- Children with mental health problems will get more support
- £43m will be invested in pilots on better housing for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind, said: “It is welcome and important to see renewed commitment from government on mental health.”
But he added: “This plan will require a step change in the approach to mental health both in the NHS and beyond.
“It comes at a time when NHS mental health services are under enormous pressure,” he said. “Funding for NHS mental health services has been cut for two consecutive years and, with no room for belt-tightening in an already underfunded service, the impact on patient care has been dramatic.”
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