I welcome the publication today of the independent Mental Health Taskforce report. It is a serious piece of work by committed campaigners and well-respected practitioners in the field of mental health. Taskforce members listened to thousands of testimonies from patients and their families from across the country, all wanting better, faster access to treatment and support. Their report must be read, considered and acted upon.
If implemented in full, the report's recommendations could make a significant difference to a system which the commission warns is ruining people's lives. This government talks a lot about mental health, but let's be clear - on their watch, mental health services have had to contend with real term funding cuts, wholesale reorganisation and staffing shortages, all at a time of growing demand.
Too many vulnerable people have been left without the care they need. More patients are having to travel hundreds of miles just to get a bed, more children are turning to A&E for help, and suicides and self-harm are at a record high. When young people in distress are being turned away from support and told they don't meet the threshold for help because they're not suicidal, we know something is going badly wrong.
The Taskforce says that we need to be spending an additional £1billion a year by 2020 to plug these gaps and have the decent mental health service we need. Whilst the government has accepted this recommendation, this money will come from the £8billion that has already been set aside for the NHS up until 2020.
Given that mental health already receives just under 10% of the total NHS budget, it is difficult to see how the funding announced today could be considered as 'additional' if it is being taken from the pre-existing pot. It is money that mental health services were expecting already, just to stay afloat.
The murkiness and the many unanswered questions which surround this latest announcement come as no surprise. The lack of transparency in our mental health system is a key theme of the report. Ministers must come clean about the details of this funding and set out what safeguards they will put in place to guarantee it will reach the services it is intended for. Such measures will be of vital importance because this Government has a track record of making spending commitments it doesn't keep.
Already the Minister responsible for mental health has admitted that it won't spend the full amount it promised for child and adolescent services and perinatal mental health support this year. The same Minister also pledged to ensure that local commissioners increase their mental health spend in line with their total budgets; yet findings from a Freedom of Information request I carried out found that one in three CCGs were not meeting this expectation.
The Taskforce is right to emphasise the importance of prevention and the responsibility of all government departments, from education to criminal justice, in treating and preventing mental health problems from developing in the first place. Specialist housing support for vulnerable people with mental health problems and improving mental health services in prison, for example, are strong calls from the Taskforce, but the Government has not yet accepted these recommendations.
Ministers must look again at these proposals. We don't solve the problems of our nation's mental health from the Department of Health alone. If we are to truly tackle the mental health challenge facing our society, then Government must prove that it is willing to work across departments and put in place the mechanisms needed to co-ordinate this work.