The prime minister was right to raise mental health in her speech on the Downing Street steps when she took office in July and, this morning, we welcome her first significant policy statement on mental health within six months of the start of her government.
Mental health policy and people with mental ill-health have been too often overlooked by successive governments and there is an urgent need for - to use the prime minster’s own words - a “step change” in mental health.
In her speech today Prime Minister May demonstrated her personal commitment to “tackle the burning injustice of mental health care”. She has a huge opportunity to make a transformative difference to the mental health, life chances and well-being of the two million Londoners who experience some form of mental ill health every year, and to many millions more across the country.
The prime minster is right to focus on children and young people. We have long known that early intervention in mental health is critical to its effective management and treatment, and providing extra training for teachers is a good proposal, yet with less money coming from local authorities in early intervention, it is important this gap is filled by central government. The NHS has seen a four-fold increase in referrals for children and young people’s services, it is likely that some of this is due to the contraction in local authority provided services.
More work in schools will also be vital in destigmatising mental illness and encouraging a prevention-led approach; creating the conditions and behaviours to grow more resilient, mental health-friendly environments and communities, and tackle ill-health early, before it becomes entrenched and clinically problematic.
It is important to note, however, that the previous government already set aside specific funding for children and young people’s mental health, but systemic challenges in how money in the NHS is allocated means we also need to see an immediate focus on ensuring the already promised money actually reaches the front line. We know that when providers do receive the investment they have been able to bring important benefits to service users through implementing the five year Forward View for mental health. For example, new perinatal services, children and young people's community eating disorder services, and greater access to talking therapies.
The prime minister should also be aware that tackling stigma will inevitably lead to more people entering the system seeking help. This vital effort must therefore come hand-in-hand with a sustained commitment to increase resources. The lack of equality of investment in mental health is itself a symbol of the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Mental health provision must also better reflect changing times and we welcome the prime minister paying attention to digital solutions for enabling quicker consultation and diagnosis. Innovative use of technology is already happening in the CSG’s member Trusts (see, for example, Oxleas’ HeadScape tool).
Important, too, is the attention given by the prime minister to mental health in the workplace. The working environment can be a major contributor to mental health crisis - but, equally, can be an essential support to those with mental ill-health. The government should encourage all employers to tackle stigma and create positive working environments and hold them to account if discrimination does occur.
We are delighted that the prime minister is recognising the importance of cross societal, multi-agency approaches to mental health and we fully endorse this. The NHS alone cannot provide what should best be carried out from schools, by employers, at home and in wider society.
The report of the Mental Health Taskforce, and the government’s endorsement of it, represents a huge opportunity to improve the mental health of London and the nation. We are delighted that London’s mayor has, like the prime minister, made mental health a priority and we continue to support Sadiq Khan in this.
The Taskforce’s recommendations are comprehensive and wide ranging. We look forward to understanding more about the government’s specific policy responses to issues such as better access to inpatient beds, core community crisis and alternative services, better coverage of liaison psychiatry services in A&Es, better access to talking therapies and enhanced services for eating disorders and perinatal mental health.
We appreciate the increased transparency NHS England has introduced on spending, access, and outcomes and hope this will lead to significant improvements. However, what is also needed is a very careful assessment of the two year NHS contracts about to be applied - they must ensure that the mental health minimum investment standard is adhered to, in addition to the £15m announced today.
We will be monitoring this very carefully.
CSG member Trusts work closely with many independent, third sector and social care partners. It will be appropriate that they receive a portion of any new funds but it is important this happens with total transparency so all are aware of where the additional money is going and which services and providers it supports.
We do not underestimate the financial resources needed to deliver a mentally healthy society, but it is not all about money - we all have a responsibility to work together to build better systems and services and to assist people and communities in supporting themselves and to receive high quality, safe and responsive services when they need them.