The Conservatives have pledged to get 10,000 more staff working in mental health by 2020 and replace “outdated” mental health legislation.
The party noted that over the last decade there had been a 43% increase in the number of people detained under the current Mental Health Act, which is now more than 30 years ago.
“We welcome the attention all parties are giving to the issue of mental health”
This statistic raised concerns that vulnerable people were being subject to unnecessary detention, including in police cells, it said.
One of party’s priorities after the election would, therefore, be to introduce a mental health treatment bill in order to “scrap the outdated and unfit-for-purpose” 1983 Mental Health Act, it stated.
The Conservatives also promised “sweeping changes” to the Equalities Act to prevent workplace discrimination against workers with mental health conditions that were “often intermittent”.
“Currently employees are only protected from discrimination if their condition is continuous for 12 months, so the law will be reformed,” said the party in a statement.
In order to help deliver its promised improvements in mental health, it added that it was also announcing plans for 10,000 more staff working in mental health by 2020.
“We have pledged to increase medical training places by 1,500 in the coming years and to focus these on targeting shortage specialties including psychiatry,” said the party.
Speaking about the policy on ITV’s Peston programme at the weekend, health secretary Jeremy Hunt noted that having a mental health problem was not “abnormal”. The commitments on mental health represent the party’s first major policy announcement on health ahead of the election on 8 June.
“The NHS needs to see hard cash to deliver any plans”
The sentiments in the Conservative announcement were welcomed by bodies representing the mental health sector, but questions were asked about the funding needed to support it.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Meaningful improvement to mental health care is always welcome but they will need to work hard just to get back to the number of specialist staff working in this area in 2010.
“Under this government, there are 4,800 fewer mental health nurses and that goes some way to explaining why patients are being failed,” she said.
“For as long as parity of esteem between physical and mental health services remains rhetoric, this will not change. The NHS needs to see hard cash to deliver any plans,” she added.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “We welcome the attention all parties are giving to the issue of mental health.
“The real issue, however, is delivery,” he said. “Successive governments have under-delivered and there is now a real expectation within the sector that promises lead to firm action.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said the charity welcomed the policy pledges and that it wanted to see “all parties making mental health a priority”.
“One in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year, so every parliamentary candidate from every party needs to accept and embrace mental health as a key issue,” he said.
“As a nation our expectations for better mental health for all are higher than ever and the next government must rise to this challenge,” he added.
But Barbara Keeley, Labour’s mental health spokeswoman, said “warm words” would not “tackle the injustice of unequal treatment in mental health”.
“The Tories have not delivered on their promise to give mental health the same priority as physical health,” she said.
“They appear to be offering no extra funding and have consistently raided mental health budgets over the last seven years,” noted Ms Keeley.
She added: “There are over 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010.”