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With the new Conservative government setting out its intention in the Queen’s Speech to improve access to mental health over the next five years, six key organisations in the sector have joined forces to keep the pressure on David Cameron’s administration to deliver on its pledge.

Ahead of the General Election, the health service – and mental health in particular – was high on the political agenda. Concerns were over poor funding, with mental health not being given the same priorities in terms of care or the creation of mental health jobs and the filling of psychology jobs and vacancies, as in the physical health sector.

In a drive to sustain the profile of mental health post-election, and with an emergency budget due on July 8, six leading mental health organisations have united to produce a plan for what they think the Government should do in the first 100 days of the new Parliament.

100-Day plan

Together, the Centre for Mental Health, the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Network, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have jointly published a report entitled “Improving England’s Mental Health: The First 100 Days and Beyond”.

The 100-day plan sets out actions they believe the new Government should take to ensure mental and physical health are valued equally.

They are to:

  • Ensure fair funding for mental health; with a commitment to increase levels of investment in mental health services in real terms over the lifetime of the Parliament. The six want the Government to restate the commitment made in the March 2015 budget to increase investment in mental health services for children and new mothers by £1.25 billion over the Parliament. 
  • Give children a good start in life; take forward the recommendations of the Children and Young People Mental Health Taskforce report, Future in Mind.
  • Improve physical health care for people with mental health problems;
  • Improve the lives of people with mental health problems through better employment support nationwide;
  • Enable better access to mental health services with new national waiting time guarantees

Concerns over mental health under-funding

The six groups point to under-funding of mental health during the last Parliament which they claim was cut in real terms by 8.25%, the equivalent of £600m.

The call, however, comes at a difficult time financially for the NHS with trusts showing a deficit of £822m between them for the year 2014-15, a rise on the previous year’s deficit of £115m.

Data from health regulator Monitor show that Foundation Trusts - which run hospitals, ambulance and mental health services and are not controlled by central government - have a deficit of £349m, compared with the planned deficit of £10m, while other trusts were £473m in the red.

Health managers say staffing issues were a key factor with trusts spending £1.8bn on contract and agency staff.

The Royal College of Nursing fears the problem has arisen because too many posts – specifically mental health jobs - have been cut. Last November it found there were 3,300 fewer posts in mental health nursing, and 1,500 fewer beds, than in 2010 at a time demand had increased by 30%.

Rising demand for mental health services

The six signatories of the plan are Stephen Dalton (Chief Executive, Mental Health Network), Sean Duggan (Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health), Jenny Edwards (Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation), Paul Farmer (Chief Executive, Mind), Professor Sir Simon Wessely (President, Royal College of Psychiatrists) and Mark Winstanley (Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness).

They point to figures showing only a quarter of adults with depression and anxiety get treatment, only 65% of people with psychosis get support and three quarters of children and young people experiencing mental health problems do not currently access treatment. Demand is also increasing, with referrals to community mental health teams having risen nearly 20% over the past five years.

Following the Queen’s Speech of May 27, the six organisations, speaking jointly, said: “These first 100 days represent a valuable opportunity for the Government to meaningfully demonstrate its commitment to improving the lives of people with mental health problems.”

They now urge the government to demonstrate in the upcoming emergency budget of July 8 its commitment by re-pledging that much needed investment in mental health services.

Mental health jobs

Research has also highlighted the need to recruit more people into mental health jobs and psychology jobs. Information gathered by Community Care from 51 NHS mental health trusts found that budgets for crisis teams had fallen by 1.7% in real terms compared to 2011/12 at a time that referrals had increased by 16%.

One of the six charities involved, Mind said “there simply aren’t enough staff to cope with the numbers of people in desperate need of their help.”

A training scheme - the Think ahead programme – is working to fast-track graduates into mental health social work. And for those working in mental health, if funding leads to more posts created to support patient demand, there is the hope it will lead to a more rewarding working environment.

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