BETTER MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES PROMISED

On Monday (15th February) the Independent Mental Health Taskforce published a national strategy for mental health. Formed in March 2015 and chaired by Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of MIND, the taskforce brought together a wide group of those involved in mental health. There were over 20,000 responses to the consultation.

The report repeats the well-known fact that 1 in 4 of the population will experience problems with their mental health. However, this has never previously troubled governments so the report adds a striking statistic which is likely to get politicians to take notice; money. The cost to society, is a whacking £105 billion a year. Since the costs affect the national economy, which includes the NHS, it should put the issue in a form in which even the Treasury can understand. They are the ones who decide how finance is raised and where resources should be focused.

The NHS propose over £1bn a year of additional funding by 2020/21 to reach one million more people but before we get too excited we need to remember just how neglected mental health services have become. In Lancashire, the Trust closed the only MH unit in Preston city, dismissing concerns about the effect on patients and families of bed shortages. Now we have patients far from their homes and families. This adds to distress and inhibits recovery. This is not confined to Lancashire. We see this situation happening to our clients in all parts of the country and it is to be hoped this cruel and demeaning situation will end.

Community care is stretched to breaking point with staff overworked and demoralised. This must be addressed.  Hospital admission is expensive and disruptive to lives. We will be watching to see whether the number of Community Treatment Orders reduces. They are often used as a form of ‘enhanced s117 aftercare’ so that CMHT’s can manage unacceptably high case-loads. Relying on legal compulsion and threats is no substitute for proper support and care. Indeed they can mask inadequacies in the system which, if properly identified, should lead to better care rather than stronger control.

All of us involved in mental health work must hold government to account. This report and the spending which has been announced attracts favourable headlines but we must not be silent when we see stigma and discrimination being accepted.

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