Royal College of Psychiatrists’ president, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, has called for a firm commitment from all political parties to take action to ensure that the millions of people who do, and will experience mental health problems are given timely, appropriate care.
A new manifesto launched today by the College states a clear goal for the next government to ensure mental and physical health are given equal value.
The manifesto has six key ‘asks’
- Everyone who requires a mental health bed should be able to access one in their local NHS Trust area, unless they need specialist care and treatment. If specialist care is required, then this should be provided within a reasonable distance of where the patient lives.
- No-one should wait longer than 18 weeks to receive treatment for a mental health problem, if the treatment has been recommended by NICE guidelines and the patient’s doctor.
- Everyone experiencing a mental health crisis, including children and young people, should have safe and speedy access to quality care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The use of police cells as ‘places of safety’ for children should be eliminated by 2016, and by the end of the next Parliament occur only in exceptional circumstances for adults.
- Every acute hospital should have a liaison psychiatry service which is available seven days a week, for at least 12 hours per day. This service should be available to patients across all ages. Emergency referrals should be seen within one hour, and urgent referrals within five working hours.
- A minimum price for alcohol of 50p per unit should be introduced. This will reduce the physical, psychological and social harm associated with problem drinking, and will only have a negligible impact on those who drink in moderation.
- There should be national investment in evidence-based parenting programmes, in order to improve the life chances of children and the well-being of families.
Are things improving for people affected by mental health problems? Are they getting worse? Certainly in the 3 years since I started this blog there have been lots of changes.
From my experience, mental health is more in the public consciousness than it was 3 years ago. The commitments given by political parties to deliver parity of care may have helped, but in my view it’s more the activists and campaigns such as Time to Change that have made a difference. All of us know someone affected by mental health problems, but more than that, my sense is that the population as a whole is beginning to take on board the fact that we all have mental health, in the same way that we all have physical health. Most of us wouldn’t think twice about discussing our flu symptoms with someone at the bus stop and yet, for many, symptoms of mental distress are taboo conversation topics. Stigma and discrimination remain rife and those of us working hard to educate and influence must not lose focus.
Mental health costs the English economy £105 billion a year (Centre for Mental Health, 2010), but remains woefully underfunded. Many commitments have been made over recent years, but these now need to be backed up by sustained delivery. This new manifesto is an important call to action that demands a response from all political parties, whether they form the next government or not.
The evidence-base in mental health continues to grow at a rapid pace. Academics and researchers would be the first to highlight problems with research funding, but the fact remains that there are dozens of high quality studies published every month that are relevant to mental health care in the UK. Compare that to 15 years ago when I started working in the field, when we had just a handful of decent systematic reviews and almost no evidence-based guidelines. We’re not short of evidence, although clearly some conditions and interventions get more funding than others!
The challenge today, more than ever, is to recognise that the vast majority of research remains biased and unreliable. People need help finding, understanding and using the best available evidence in practice. The elves will continue to appraise, summarise and disseminate the evidence that is produced, to help clinicians, policy-makers, commissioners and others meet the targets set by this commendable manifesto.
Simon Wessely should be congratulated for the impact he has had already, just three months into his presidency of the College, and this new manifesto is further evidence of his drive and desire to quickly bring about real lasting change. I’m impressed by his use of social media; definitely someone to follow if you aren’t already: @WesselyS. I’m less impressed by his admission that he’s a Chelsea FC season ticket holder, but I guess that we all have our crosses to bear…
￼Making parity a reality: six asks for the next government to improve the nation’s mental health (PDF). Royal College of Psychiatrists, 12 Sep 2014.
Boseley S. Two-thirds of Britons with depression get no treatment (interview with Simon Wessely). The Guardian, 13 Aug 2014.
The mental health strategy for England. Department of Health, 2 Feb 2011.
National framework to improve mental health and wellbeing. Department of Health, 24 Jul 2012.
Making mental health services more effective and accessible. Department of Health, 3 Apr 2014.