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Prime minister Theresa May announces raft of new mental health policies

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Prime minister Theresa May has today set out a series of new policies aimed at improving mental health provision, including more than £80m of spending commitments to improve digital access and expand community services.

In her first major domestic policy speech on social reform this morning, Ms May said she wanted to “employ the power of government as a force for good” to transform the way people with mental health problems are treated.

“What I am announcing are the first steps in our plan to transform the way we deal with mental illness”

Theresa May

Speaking at the annual Charity Commission lecture in London, the prime minister announced a package of measures aimed at improving mental health services in schools, workplaces and the community.

The measures will focus on early intervention for children and young people, as well as launching a review into how to improve support for employees with mental health problems.

She said: “I want us to employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society, and at every stage of life.

“What I am announcing are the first steps in our plan to transform the way we deal with mental illness in this country at every stage of a person’s life: not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities,” she said in the speech.

“This is a historic opportunity to right a wrong, and give people deserving of compassion and support the attention and treatment they deserve,” she added.

Her speech is designed to support comments made shortly after she became prime minister in July, when she said there was not enough help for people with mental health issues.

The cross-governmental policy plans announced on Monday include:

  • Offering every secondary school in the country mental health first aid training over three years starting with 1,200 schools this year as well as trials to strengthen links between schools and NHS mental health teams
  • Appointing former chair of Halifax Bank of Scotland Lord Dennis Stevenson and Mind chief executive Paul Farmer – chair of the NHS mental health taskforce – to lead a review into improving mental health in the workplace
  • Launching a review of child and adolescent mental health services led by the Care Quality Commission
  • Publishing a green paper setting out plans to transform services for children and young people at schools, universities and for families;
  • A ringfenced £15m fund to expand community support for people with mental health problems including new crisis cafes and community clinics, building on the £15m already used to create new places of safety
  • Speeding up the delivery of new digital mental health provision worth £67.7m including an online service where patients can check symptoms and access digital therapy instead of waiting for a face-to-face appointment
  • Launching a formal review into the mental health debt form which can see patients charged up to £300 to prove they have a mental health problem
  • Supporting NHS England’s commitment to eliminate out of area inpatient placements for children and young people

The £15m fund for community-based services will be taken from existing Department of Health budgets. Number 10 said the new digital package will be funded through the £4.2bn NHS technology pot announced by Mr Hunt last year, apart from £3m from NHS England to pilot digital improving access to psychological therapies. It is yet to be confirmed when the new digital services are expected to launch.

Number 10 said it will also consult with employers, charities and legal experts about discrimination protection in the workplace, which currently only applies where mental illness is classed as a disability – when the illness persists for more than year.

“We need to see sustained leadership to make sure services and support improve”

Paul Farmer

Mr Farmer and Lord Stevenson will report back later this year. Mr Farmer told Nursing Times’ sister journal Health Service Journal that the new workplace review will build on the recommendations on improving mental health in the NHS workforce already set out in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.

In a separate press statement, he welcomed Ms May’s announcement and said mental health should be at the “heart of government, society and communities”.

He said: “We welcome the announcements around a focus on prevention in schools and workplaces and support for people in crisis. The proof will be in the difference it makes to the day-to-day experience of the one in four who will experience a mental health problem this year.

”Mental health is everyone’s business and we need to see sustained leadership to make sure services and support improve for all of us with mental health problems,” he said. ”Having been neglected for decades, we need to see it made a priority for decades to come to make sure everyone with mental health problems can live the life they want to lead.”

“There are now 6,600 fewer mental health nurses, compared to 2010”

Barbara Keeley

But Labour criticised the government’s previous record on mental health, describing it as “one of failure” over the past six years that the party has been in power.

Labour mental health spokeswoman Barbara Keeley said: “The truth is that funding for mental health fell by over 8% over the last parliament, there are now 6,600 fewer mental health nurses, compared to 2010, and thousands of patients in crisis have to travel out of area for a psychiatric bed.

”Much of the extra funding meant for childrens mental health services has actually been used for other NHS services,” she said. “The government has failed to provide sufficient funding for mental health services,and people are being let down as a result.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb described today’s announcement as a “puny response to a burning injustice and an attempt to cover up for this government’s failure to deliver on promised investment for children’s mental health”.

Norman Lamb

Norman Lamb

Source: Peter Searle

Norman Lamb

“I welcome the fact the prime minister is addressing the issue of mental health,” he said. “But measures to improve mental health care in schools were already agreed during coalition, and the current government has failed to ensure the investment needed to implement them has got through.

“Much of the additional £1.4bn of funding secured for child mental health care is being diverted to prop up other services,” he said. ”This amounts to theft of money intended to improve the lives of vulnerable young people.

Hw added: “Sadly, mental health is often the first area which loses out when budgets are tight. Unless the government addresses the funding crisis facing the NHS and ensures extra investment gets through to where it’s needed, we will not see the improvements in mental health care that are so badly needed.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • P M May talks the talk but does not walk the walk.

    Personal Independence Payments, replacing Disability Living Allowance, paid via the Department of Work and Pensions, are being administered in such away as to cause avoidable harm to people already undergoing substantial difficulties.

    The previous firm (what were they called? Athos?) contracted by the government to assess for DLA was exposed for very inappropriate methods and was subsequently replaced.

    But was the government's contract to the new firm modified?

    Did not the initial contract actively encourage the failure of applications on the first assessment? Thereby failing people who were too ill or too proud to go through a very unpleasant business all over again? Did it not pay more to the firm for 2nd and 3rd applications than it did for a first application thus providing to any government that seeks to oppress disadvantaged people a win win situation to both itself and the contracted firm? Please correct me if I have got that wrong.

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