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Call for ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health

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A mental health campaigner has urged the government to back the Royal College of Nursing’s call for “parity of esteem” for mental health with physical conditions at the union’s annual conference.

Addressing the RCN congress, Jonny Benjamin MBE, who now campaigns to raise awareness of and improve services for mental health, said he could not believe that in 2017 there is still no parity of esteem.

“I owe a lot to a lot of nurses”

Jonny Benjamin

Mr Benjamin was speaking at the event today in Liverpool with Neil Laybourn, who at the time was a stranger, but prevented Mr Benjamin from jumping off Waterloo Bridge in January 2008.

The story of Mr Benjamin’s search – launched in 2014 – to find that stranger after his recovery was captured in a Channel 4 documentary The Stranger on the Bridge.

Mr Benjamin told delegates: “I remember talking to the [coalition government’s health minister] Norman Lamb about the Health and Social Care Act and how that would bring about parity of esteem.

“Now it is 2017, and we still do not have it,” he said. “We have to wait 18 months or two years for treatment. If a young person had cancer, would they have to wait that long for radiotherapy? It just would not happen.”

Mr Laybourn and Mr Benjamin both now public speak to raise awareness of mental health issues, and ran the London Marathon last month for Heads Together, a partnership with charities that offer frontline mental health support as well as tackling prejudice and raising awareness.

During the speech to their largest ever audience of over 3,000 RCN members, Mr Benjamin paid tribute to the nurses who had helped in his recovery.

He recalled a nurse who had kept coming to see him in hospital and telling him about her son who had just come out as gay, telling Mr Benjamin how proud she was of him.

“I could not understand why she just kept coming every day and saying the same thing,” he said. “But she really helped me to come out. I owe her.

“I owe a lot to a lot of nurses,” he added. “The nurse who smiled at me at the corridor or who would knock on the door of my room and come in and ask how I was feeling and what I was reading. She just took an interest in me. The smallest gestures made the biggest difference.”

Yesterday, the RCN passed a motion calling for “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health problems in terms of access to services and quality of care.

Tim Coupland, from the RCN’s Dorset branch, which submitted the resolution, described the current situation as “shambolic”.

After a debate interrupted by a keynote speech, the motion was “resoundingly” passed with no votes against and just two abstentions.

Dorset Branch resolution: That this meeting of Congress condemns the UK governments’ failure to deliver ‘parity of esteem’ and urges RCN Council to insist that this is addressed urgently.

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