THE BLOG
09/10/2015 12:43 BST | Updated 09/10/2016 06:12 BST

We Must Keep Fighting for Equality Between Mental and Physical Health

Creating equality between mental and physical health in the NHS was one of my top priorities as Care Minister, but the fight is far from over.

The long term disadvantage suffered by those who have mental ill health, both in terms of attention and funding, has created a situation completely at odds with the fundamental principle of our NHS: that everyone has the right to access treatment and care at the point of need.

The truth is that there is outrageous discrimination at the heart of the NHS. If you have suspected cancer you have a right to see a specialist within two weeks - and rightly so. But if you are a teenager with an eating disorder - a condition which can kill - you have no such right. It's impossible to justify that.

While I am very proud to have introduced the first maximum waiting time standards for mental health - for early intervention in psychosis and for access to psychological therapies - too many people still do not have the right to access treatment on time.

For a whole group of people to be treated differently, simply because of the type of condition they have, is clearly unacceptable.

Hard working and dedicated NHS staff are doing admirable work every day to support their patients, with increasingly stretched resources. If this Government is serious about equality for mental health, the first thing it must do is commit to additional ring-fenced funding in the next spending review.

The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day is dignity in mental health. To me, this means people with mental ill health having a right to the same quality of care and support as anyone else.

Nowhere is this more important than in crisis care. Last year, organisations involved in health, care and policing across the country signed an agreement to improve mental health crisis care. It was called the Crisis Care Concordat. One of the problems it sought to address was the number of people who end up in a police cell as a result of a mental health crisis. This is an outrageous practice for people who have committed no crime. We achieved a 50% reduction in two years but of course we must go further. Dignity in mental health means no one experiencing a mental health crisis should ever find themselves in a police cell, because the care they need is not available.

We must also end the disgraceful practice of routinely sending mental health patients hundreds of miles from home to receive treatment. These 'out of area placements' are extremely distressing. It would be unacceptable for any other illness and yet the most recent figures show that one in seven people admitted to hospital to receive mental health treatment end up in a bed out of their home area.

Like any other NHS patient, people with mental ill health should receive care in their community, with their loved ones nearby. I began work to end out of area placements as a Minister, and was told it would be possible to put a stop to this practice. I wanted it ended within a year. But time ran out ahead of the election. I call on the new Government to commit to meeting this timescale.

My mission to achieve equality for those suffering mental ill health is as strong as it ever was. I desperately hope the Health Secretary will continue to build on the progress that was made in the last five years.

My sincere thanks to everyone involved in promoting World Mental Health Day. It is such an important opportunity for us all to give mental health the attention that it so badly needs, but so rarely gets.

Norman Lamb is the Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk and party spokesman for health