Nine former health secretaries agree – the government is failing mental health patients

Twenty years worth of health leaders urge government to prioritise mental healthcare


The ‘enduring injustice’ of inadequate mental healthcare continues to blight families across the country, according to Jeremy Hunt’s nine immediate predecessors.

In a joint letter to the Times, Andy Burnham, Kenneth Clarke, Frank Dobson, Stephen Dorrell, Patricia Hewitt, Alan Johnson, Andrew Lansley, Alan Milburn and John Reid lament that despite the Conservative promise of ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical health, the crisis is not being addressed.

They write:

“Despite the warm words, one year on we see the same enduring injustice, the massive economic cost and the distress suffered by countless families across the country. Despite promised increases in funding, mental health trusts are still suffering cuts.

“Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45, people in crisis are still routinely shunted across the country in search of a hospital bed, children with eating disorders are too often turned away from services, and there is a growing mental health crisis among young women.

“We are alarmed and dismayed that so many of these points echo those made a year ago when promises of real change were made by David Cameron and George Osborne. We urge their successors to make good the promise of genuine equality.”

The signatories are encouraging Chancellor Philip Hammond to make new mental health commitments in next week’s Autumn Statement.

Also in the Times, current secretary Jeremy Hunt defended his record, claiming that the government is ‘making progress against our goal to address the difficulties faced by those with mental health problems – spending by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) has increased by £693 million.’

However, figures obained by Labour MP Luciana Berger show that 57 per cent of CCGs will cut their spending on mental health in 2016-17.

Additionally, parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has said that given the overall cash squeeze in the NHS, the government’s specific mental health targets cannot be reached without compromising other mental and physical health services.

So while Hunt is correct that spending has increased, that means little if demand is still not being met, or if the benefits aren’t being felt on the front line.

We know that Hunt won’t listen to doctors, psychologists or unions — might he heed the warnings of his own predecessors?

See also: Jeremy Hunt’s NHS revamp is a doomed fix to a problem Tories created

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