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Why We're Introducing Waiting Time Standards for Mental Health

13/08/2015 17:05 BST | Updated 13/08/2016 10:59 BST

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To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.

Experiencing mental health concerns is not unusual. At least one in four of the population experience problems at some point in their lives. Over half of mental health problems in adult life start by the age of 14 and 75% by age 18.

Eating disorders may wreak a toll on the body but they start in the mind. And the challenges are multiple. Will I be taken seriously? How can I get access to the services that can help? How long will that take?

That wait for help is serious and can be deadly.

That's why, for the first time, we're introducing waiting time standards for mental health.

We know the earlier treatment for eating disorders can begin, the better the outcome.

NHS England has invested £30million to improve eating disorder services, backed by a new standard aiming to achieve 95% of patients being seen within four weeks or one week for urgent cases by 2020. The very worst emergency cases should find support within 24 hours. The funding will be used to improve community based eating disorder services so patients are helped earlier and fewer need in-patient care.

We must treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health, and for that to happen we need mental health waiting time standards as we have for physical health.

The new eating disorder standard is backed by £150million over five years. It will not only help make sure that young people get the treatment they need when they need it, it will also help make sure the funding reaches services effectively.

Mental health is one of my priorities, especially children's mental health. I will continue to promote mental health services, whether it's for expectant mothers suffering psychological distress, increased access to talking therapies for all, or better counselling services in schools.

We have come a long way. Mental and physical health conditions are now given equal priority in law, we've increased funding, we're tackling stigma and I will continue to hold the NHS to account to make sure that mental health and physical health conditions are given equal priority.

NHS England has said it will work with its partners in health, education and social care to make sure those responsible for the health and wellbeing of children and young people know how to recognise eating disorders and how to access appropriate care.

I know I have not experienced these services first-hand but many families have bravely shared their experiences with me, as have the staff who care for them.

I have learned so much from them in the past three months and their stories have had a profound impact on me - it is these families, and countless more like them across the country, which will drive me to make lasting improvements to these services.

Alistair Burt is Minister of State for Community and Social Care and the Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire

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