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Is The Government Taking Mental Health Seriously Enough?

01/08/2017 11:58
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Theresa May said in her first speech as PM in July 2016 that shortcomings in mental health provision were one of the ''burning injustices'' of our society. She was absolutely correct. For too long a lack of mental health nurses, inadequacy of services, lack of funding as well as geographic, economic, and racial inequalities have meant that lives were being blighted .

The provision of mental health services in Britain are desperately failing the millions of people who are affected by mental health problems. As a society, we have made worthy strides in raising awareness and reducing stigma, but the government has for too long been falling woefully short.

In an effort to turn rhetoric into action, the government has recently outlined plans to spend an additional £1.3bn on mental health services and for thousands of new roles to be recruited in a new 'mental health workforce plan.' This plan aims to treat an extra one million patients by 2020 to 2021 to address what Jeremy Hunt has called an ''historical imbalance'' in the NHS.

The plans set out to recruit 2,000 additional nurses, consultants and therapist posts created in child and adolescent mental health services, with 2,900 additional therapists and 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings.

Theresa May has also promised to bring in wide-ranging reforms to the current Mental Health Act to reduce the numbers of those affected by mental health problems being detained in police cells. Those who use mental health services account for 50% of deaths in police custody and May says the plans ''finally confronts the discrimination and unnecessary detention that takes place too often.''

The effect on the black community of this detention has been particularly staggering, with the UK's Afro-Caribbean community most likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act despite there not appearing to be a high prevalence of mental health problems among this section of society.

The current disparity in service provision across the country also means those who are socioeconomically deprived are less likely to seek help for mental health issues. They are also less likely to be referred to specialist mental health services according to the Samaritans.

This shows a desperate need for the government to get this right, as people across the country are being consistently failed and their health is at risk as a result.

However, the Conservative's track record so far on mental health is staggeringly poor. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses since 2010. The RCN also questioned how these targets can be achieved as for nurses to be ready, training would have to begin next month. The announcement was welcomed but the RCN stressed the need for detail and proper funding.

Under the current administration the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has rated 40% of mental health services in England as unsafe, which Labour said highlighted ''the Tories' true record on mental health: waiting times increasing, falling numbers of mental health nurses, patients being sent many miles from home for treatment and one in four mental health services being given the poorest ratings by the CQC.''

In this commitment by the government, the lack of detail is troubling, and doesn't appear to address some of the failures of the government to solve systemic problems in the NHS. The removal of bursaries for nurses has seen a ''sharp fall in university applications and we are yet to see funding for additional places'' according to Janet Davies, the Chief Executive of the RCN. Additionally, the 1% pay cap remains in place and so Jeremy Hunt's commitment to drive recruitment looks to be built on a very flimsy foundation.

Barbara Keeley, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health said that ''the workforce plan provides no real answers on how these new posts will be funded or how recruitment issues will be overcome. And it offers little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale.'' She added that Labour would ring-fence funding, reinstate bursaries for nurses and lift the 1% pay-cap if elected into power.

It is about time that the government showed decisive action on this issue. For years, those who have suffered from mental health problems have complained that they are unable to access services, or that the way they have been treated has left them feeling let down. It is with great shame that I don't believe that these plans go far enough, and that they are undermined by the assault on nurses that this government continues to enforce. This government has done more to undermine mental health provision since 2010 than improve it. It is a good thing that the government sees the need for improving mental health provision, but it is about time that it turned words into comprehensive action.

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