Mental health charities and social enterprises have slammed the government for “a betrayal” by failing to develop a standalone plan for mental ill health alongside a new strategy for supporting people with major health conditions.
Last month health secretary Steve Barclay unveiled a ‘Major Conditions Strategy’ to tackle six major conditions described as contributing to England’s ‘burden of disease’.
In a statement to Parliament, Barclay listed these six as: cancers; cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and diabetes; chronic respiratory diseases; dementia; mental ill health; and musculoskeletal disorders.
The aim is that the new strategy will sit alongside the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan and will allow the NHS better to set out the standards a patient should expect in the short term and over a five-year timeframe.
However, 19 mental health charities and social enterprises have come together to describe the fact mental health has been merged into the new strategy as a “betrayal” of a promise by the government to develop a separate long-term, strategic plan for mental health.
The organisations have warned that grouping mental ill health with chronic health conditions such as cancer and respiratory diseases will fail to bring about the long-term government thinking needed to tackle the root causes of mental health problems or provide people with the care they need.
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“The government has been publicly stating for almost a year that it would develop a 10-year plan for the prevention and treatment of mental health problems in England,” they said in a statement.
“This is exactly what is needed. Avoiding quick fixes and looking at every part of the wider society’s role in preventing and responding to mental health problems beyond just the health system. We need large-scale changes to protect people’s mental health.”
While acknowledging the important connection between mental health and physical conditions, the charities have said this should not mean scrapping a standalone mental health plan.
“The merging of the mental health plan with a Major Conditions Strategy risks excluding our children and young people, who are less likely to experience chronic ill health, yet are the most likely to benefit from early action to protect their mental health. Prevention should be at the heart of the new plan – for all the conditions it will cover – but the government’s emphasis is on the other end of life: extending people’s healthy life expectancy.
“We need sustained investment in high-quality person-centred support for mental health and social care services, but a percentage of NHS spend should be dedicated to preventative mental health interventions, working with and developing alongside people who are more likely to experience a mental health difficulty,” the organisations argued.
Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, one of the charities involved, said: “Our collective voice sends a strong message that to prevent poor mental health and support people with mental health problems in England, there must be a dedicated plan that shows our government is giving our mental health the priority it deserves.
“The coronavirus pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have only increased the urgent need for such a strategy. England will now be the only UK country without either a dedicated mental health strategy or a commitment to creating such a plan,” he added.
The 19 organisations involved are:
- Association of Mental Health Providers – Kathy Roberts (CEO)
- Anna Freud Centre – Michael Samuel, (chair of trustees)
- Black Thrive Global – Jacqui Dyer, (director)
- Centre for Mental Health – Andy Bell, (interim CEO)
- Helplines Partnership – Paula Ojok, (CEO)
- Mental Health First Aid England – Simon Blake, (CEO)
- Mental Health Foundation – Mark Rowland, (CEO)
- Mental Health UK – Brian Dow, (CEO)
- Mental Health Innovations – Victoria Hornby, (CEO)
- Mind – Sarah Hughes, (CEO)
- MindForward Alliance – Poppy Jaman, (CEO)
- Mental Health Network of the NHS Confederation – Sean Duggan, (CEO)
- MQ Mental Health Research – Lea Milligan, (CEO)
- Rethink Mental Illness – Mark Winstanley, (CEO)
- Place2Be – Catherine Roche, (CEO)
- Samaritans – Julie Bentley, (CEO)
- Student Minds – Rosie Tressler, (CEO)
- The Mix – Chris Martin, (CEO)
- YoungMinds – Tom Madders, (co-CEO)