THE BLOG

Changes To The NHS Mental Health Service: Too Little, Too Late, For Far Too Many

18/02/2016 13:46 GMT | Updated 15/02/2017 10:12 GMT

The government has announced there will be sweeping changes made to mental health services in the NHS from 2020 onwards, including the establishment of 24 hour community care for those in crisis, and over £1bn invested annually.

This plan has been hailed as the most 'ambitious' series of changes made to the mental health service in a long time, the answer to the long-running problems within the NHS where mental health is concerned.

While there is no doubt that the injection of so much money in the NHS, and a concerted focus on improving mental health services, will be an absolute godsend in years to come, I am still forced to ask:

What about the people who need help NOW?

What about the people who will be dead tomorrow because their mental health team couldn't save them?

Note my very careful use of the word couldn't. Not wouldn't. This is not a choice being made by doctors and nurses within the NHS. They are not being negligent. They are not failing.

They are currently going above and beyond to try and help as many as they can. But they don't have the staff and they don't have the time. They don't have the money to hire more staff and spread the work out.

They are expected to do the same job they have always done, to the same standard the always did it, with far fewer people.

About a year ago my own psychiatrist actually asked me to lodge a formal complaint. He asked me to complain about him. The number of people working in my mental health team had diminished to the point that there simply weren't enough people to do all the work.

Cracks were developing, and people were falling right through them.

Nobody was listening to his complaints on the subject, and he thought perhaps patient complaints would carry more weight.

Changes enacted by the government in recent years - that same government now playing the hero as they proclaim they will save mental health services and cut the suicide rate - mean there is a limit to how many crisis cases the NHS can deal with at any given time.

I'm talking about cuts to budget and staff. I'm talking about prioritising physical health over mental health.

The demand for mental health services has risen 20% in the last five years.

At the same time, funding for those services was CUT by 8%.

Mental health charity ReThink conducted research across 1,000 GPs and discovered that an astonishing 21% of their patients had experienced suicidal ideation as a result of stress caused by the Work Capability Assessments.

An estimated 10,000 victims of sexual abuse are now forced to wait over a YEAR for access to counselling.

1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health problems every year.

And the suicide rate in the United Kingdom has been steadily increasing.

People have been dying.

And £1bn of funding isn't going to bring them back.

I became very concerned recently when a very close friend began saying strange things. I grew so concerned I called the police, convinced something was very wrong.

While I was relieved to find her safe it was clear she was in real trouble.

She knew this, and she wanted help.

She needed help.

When she went to see her doctor we assumed she would get an emergency psych appointment.

Instead she was put on a waiting list.

Why?

Because she's not currently suicidal.

Under the current system, the NHS mental health teams are only able to treat you as a crisis patient if you are suicidal, or have recently attempted suicide.

Even those who have a history of suicide attempts are not given priority if they are not currently suicidal.

In the interim my friend must make do with her GP, who has done what almost all GPs do in the face of mental health issues, no matter what form they take, and prescribed anti-depressants.

Anti-depressants are the go-to medication for GPs to give anyone with mental health issues. Never mind if the patient is exhibiting a range of symptoms that cannot be explained by clinical depression. Never mind that anti-depressants alter your brain chemistry. Never mind that they can actually make you a lot worse if you have certain conditions.

My friend has been denied a psychiatrist because she's not suicidal, prescribed drugs that alter the chemistry of the brain without a proper diagnosis to understand what her brain is doing, let alone how it needs altering, and put on a waiting list along with everyone else currently in need of mental health care.

Meanwhile, the government have announced they will reduce the suicide rate by 10% from 2020 onward and are happily patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

I agree, it's a good start, but it's not enough.

Just let me do the maths on this for you, and you will see how utterly inadequate this 10% goal is.

Suicide rates in the UK increased between 2010 and 2013 by 625 people.

The total number of suicides in the UK in 2010 was 5,608.

This means that in the first three years of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat leadership, the suicide rate increased by 11%.

I wonder how big will that percentage will grow by 2020, and how much of a dent 10% will make in it then?

How many people have to die while they figure out how to fix their own mess?

Not improve mental health services overall, just undo some of the damage they've done.

Some. Not all.

I sincerely hope we get the 24 hour crisis management and other support that has been promised. We desperately need it.

I also hope my friend is still alive to see it.

There are three kinds of doctors who treat the mentally ill: psychiatrists, psychologists, and pathologists.

If the first two options will only see you if you are already considering, or have recentlyattempted, suicide, is it really any wonder so many end up with option number three?