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Baroness Tyler: Government must increase spending to ensure Equality4MentalHealth

4 min read

Lib Dem Spokesperson for Mental Health Baroness Tyler writes in support of the cross-party Equality4MentalHealth campaign launched this week, calling for increased Government funding for mental health services.

This week Norman Lamb, Alastair Campbell and Andrew Mitchell published an open letter to the Government. The letter called for equal treatment for people with mental ill health and called on the Government to increase funding for mental health.

I was absolutely delighted to join their names as a signatory, along with household names from the world of business, faith communities, the arts, culture and sport. Delia Smith, Richard Curtis, Danny Boyle, Annie Lennox, Graham Norton, Steve Coogan, Frank Skinner, Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew and Sir Steve Redgrave. We have all joined Norman in saying it is time for a fair deal for sufferers of mental ill health.

In Government, Norman led the Lib Dem battle for improvements in mental healthcare. I’m proud of the changes we made. We introduced the first waiting time standards for mental healthcare, and secured additional funding for mental health services for young people. However the battle for true equality is far from over.

Our job now is to hold this Government’s feet firmly to the fire and make sure the promised money finds its way into the system and, crucially, that money earmarked for mental health services is indeed spent on mental healthcare by Clinical Commissioning Groups. In a recent, and very welcome, spate of debates and questions in the Lords I have pushed for more details about where and when the additional £1.25 billion promised for young people’s mental health during this Parliament is going to be spent.

It is totally unacceptable that one in five mentally ill children who are referred for specialist treatment are currently turned away by the NHS.  The most common reason given was that their condition was not serious enough to reach the threshold for treatment. Lack of investment in children’s mental health services, despite soaring demand, has forced many NHS services to raise their thresholds for care. Experts say this means children must wait until their conditions worsen, and even become suicidal, before they are referred again for treatment. Of course by then their illness is more complicated to treat.

Across the political spectrum there is distinct agreement that more needs to be done but we face the question, when money is tight, is there the political will to make mental health a real priority? With so many other pressures on the health and social care sector is Jeremy Hunt really going to fight the Treasury tooth and nail to ensure that happens?

With one in four adults in Britain experiencing a mental health problem each year, it is not surprising that the fight for true equality for people with mental ill health is galvanising support from all quarters. The letter sent to the Government highlights the on-going challenges in mental healthcare. Many people who experience mental ill health do not access treatment and too many people experiencing a mental health crisis find themselves taken to a police cell, rather than to hospital. There is a shocking 20 year gap in life expectancy between those with mental health problems and the rest of the population.

Recently, the annual survey led by the regulator – the Care Quality Commission - of over 13,000 people who were treated and cared for in the community for their mental health problems has shown ‘no notable improvement’ in the last year and in some questions, a slightly higher proportion of people have reported a poor experience including whether people felt they were treated with dignity and respect and on whether they felt involved in decisions about their care.

The recent report published by QualityWatch, a joint research programme from the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation think tanks, is equally worrying and suggests that mental health sufferers are not having their physical health adequately managed, despite being known to the NHS for their mental health needs. The report finds that people with mental ill health had almost five times more emergency inpatient admissions in 2013/14, relative to people without. Yet the vast majority of these emergency admissions were not explicitly to support mental health needs, and a proportion of them were potentially preventable. In a two tier health system everyone is worse off.

Equality4MentalHealth , the campaign jointly led by Lib Dem health spokesperson Norman Lamb, has highlighted ten issues we must overcome, and calls for the money made available to reach this goal. If you support this target, as I do, join us in calling on the Government to treat mental health equally at: www.equality4mentalhealth.uk

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