In February last year, the NHS committed to delivering the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health – a five-year plan for improving mental health services – and promised an additional £1bn in funding by 2020-21 to make this possible. But it’s no secret that the NHS is under significant pressure and earlier this month its chief executive, Simon Stevens, raised genuine concerns about whether it would be possible to deliver on this plan if there was a cash shortfall in the NHS budget over the next few years.
Last week the Government announced some extra money for the NHS, but it doesn’t cover what the NHS said it needs. We know that both the Government and the NHS accept the need to improve mental health services, but in uncertain times many are understandably concerned about what will happen when difficult decisions are being made about which services to prioritise. After decades of neglect and underfunding, everyone involved in mental health services is used to being way down in the list of priorities, but with so much progress made in recent years in raising awareness of mental health problems and a clear plan of action, the NHS has to move forwards, not backwards.
The public mood has changed and there is now a much greater understanding of the importance of supporting people with mental health problems, and the catastrophic consequences of leaving people without the help they need. And the scale of the challenge can’t be underestimated. We know that two thirds of people with a mental health problem don’t get any support from services at all, and that mental health gets just 11% of the overall NHS budget.
We start from such a disadvantaged position that the five-year plan is designed simply to bring services up to a basic standard, to start the long road to achieving the ‘parity of esteem’ – equal priority with physical health – that both the Government and the NHS say time and time again they are committed to.
The five-year plan includes putting a stop once and for all to sending people sometimes hundreds of miles away from their family and friends when they’re at their most unwell because there are no hospital beds near them. It includes increasing access to talking therapies for many living with anxiety and depression. It includes measures that will reduce by 10% the number of lives lost each year to suicide.
This plan must be delivered. The extra £1billion for mental health will scratch the surface and it must be protected. It would be profoundly unfair for already-stretched staff to be put under any more pressure and for people with mental health problems to lose out more than they already do. The NHS must protect and deliver on its promise to improve mental health services, no matter what.
As well as Mind’s Chief Executive, Paul is Independent Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce and Chair of the Advisory and Oversight Board for the delivery of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.
Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists are calling on the NHS to recommit to the £1bn promised for mental health services. Join the discussion on Twitter #stopmhcuts