General Election 2015 Roundtable: Overhaul 'Seriously Disadvantaged' Mental Health Spending, Say Experts

Beyond The Ballot is The Huffington Post UK's alternative take on the General Election, taking on the issues too awkward for Westminster. It focuses on the unanswered questions around internet freedom, mental health and housing. Election news, blogs, polls and predictions are combined with in-depth coverage of our three issues including roundtable debates, MP interviews and analysis.

A panel of experts have used a Huffington Post UK roundtable debate to call for an overhaul of health funding, to address that the disparity in how we treat physical and mental health.

With one-in-four Britons suffering a mental health problem each year, the campaigners demanded budgets be spent in a more evidence-driven way as mental issues were "seriously disadvantaged" and "chronically underfunded".

As part of HuffPost UK's Mind The Gap series - exploring gaps in accountability and service for the country's treatment of mental health - panellists agreed that spending more, and more effectively, on mental health did not have to mean spending less on physical health and could actually benefit it.

"It's not just simply a case of taking money out of one bit of the system and putting it another. It's about using our money better and within mental health we have to spend our money better," said The Centre for Mental Health’s Andy Bell.

Bell added money was currently spent on mental health with a disregard for the evidence of what worked best, meaning large amounts were wasted - and even more had to be spent to tackle the problems being overlooked.

Two panellists had experiences of mental health difficulties close to home: Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean Rigg suffered from schizophrenia and died in police custody in 2008, and Shalini Bhalla, who was diagnosed with depression.

Bell said: "NHS spends about 13% of its budget on mental health support and that's for about a quarter of all need, so mental health is very seriously disadvantaged.

"We also know it spends another 13% of its money on extra physical health care on people with long-term conditions like diabetes, whose poor mental health is affecting their physical health very seriously.

"So actually, by reinvesting in some mental health support for those groups of people that are currently experiencing poor physical and mental health, we can make the system work better as a whole and improve people's lived markedly."

Andy Bell (left) and Shalini Bhalla (right)

Bell said the Department for Work And Pensions' Work Programme, which seeks to get people on benefits back to work, "hasn't produced great results for people with mental health issues".

He contrasted this with a "fantastic" Individual Placements And Support (IPS) scheme, which places people in work, then trains them and has better results, but isn't offered widely enough in his view.

"If it was a drug therapy that had as good results as IPS does, it'd be a national scandal if we weren't at least offering it to everyone who could benefit,” he said.

He added: "We could be investing in better support for people with mental health problems into jobs, which we know does create better things, by looking at the economics of it, by understanding where money can be better spent."

Panellist Louse Rubin, Parliamentary Manager for the charity Mind, said mental health needed a higher proportion of NHS money, after seeing an 8% cut in the last five years.

Marcia Rigg (left) and Louise Rubin (right)

She said: "I don't think we've got any choice but to demand more a bigger piece of the pie for mental health services.

"I think perhaps we've shied away from saying that in the past, because it's not been very fashionable to talk about funding and call for money, but the evidence is clear this is a system that's at breaking point and creaking under the strains so, yes, we do need more money."

Shalini Bhalla, who suffered from depression, told the roundtable: "I'm not a politician, I don't understand the budget or anything like that but all I know is, if we don't start spending now, we'll be talking about this in another five years and it'll be an even bigger problem. If we spend now, we might not have the cost that I think in five years will be there."

Marcia Rigg said she was fed up with successive governments' inaction on the issue: "Whichever government has been in, has not made any difference on mental health. I'm hoping that this new government, will see the crisis everywhere and will make effective, real change that no other government has done."

The roundtable experts recommended:

  • A more holistic approach: Physical and mental health should not be treated or thought of separately, as one can cause the other. Health services are too quick to designate people as physically or mentally unwell
  • Targets: There needs to be more accountability for delivering mental health services: the current setup lacks targets on wellbeing and local agencies can ignore national calls for more focus on the issue
  • Leadership from national government and the media: While there had been progress in ending stigma around mental health but events, education is needed within the schooling system to end the mental health stereotypes 'embedded in our culture'
  • A national plan: Establish a strategy on wellbeing and prevention of mental health conditions
  • Legislation: Changes to the law so that children cannot be held in police cells after being detained under the Mental Health Act

As part of The Huffington Post UK's Beyond The Ballot series we want to know what issues you think aren't getting enough attention in the election campaign. Tweet using the hashtag #BeyondTheBallot to tell us in 140 characters and we'll feature the best contributions