Mental health provision is in crisis. Solving it requires more than warm words

People are dying tragically and needlessly. Samantha Wathen reports from a recent crisis summit.

A new survey out this week from the Royal College of Psychiatrists reflects a worrying picture for mental health provision across the UK.

Unfilled psychiatrist posts have doubled in the last six years, with children’s mental health and eating disorder services particularly badly affected. This is just one example forming the backdrop to nearly 300 people – including service users, clinicians and campaigners – gathering for a sold-out Mental Health Crisis Summit at the end of September.

The summit – organised by Keep Our NHS Public, Health Campaigns Together and Mental Health – Time for Action – came in response to what has now sadly become an epidemic in British society. From the day a charter of demands was drawn up to try and inform meaningful and lasting change around mental health campaigning and hopefully inform future policy.

Shadow health Secretary Jonathon Ashworth was scathing about the state of mental health provision in the UK, saying: “This focus on mental health has been ignored, forgotten and not given the priority it deserves, and it definitely isn’t been giving a priority under the current government.

“Very vulnerable people are being sent hundreds of miles away, and often to receive a sub-standard level of care in the private sector.”

Rachel Bannister, co-founder of campaign group Mental Health – Time for Action attested to that, when she spoke movingly about the effect of underfunded services on her family.

Her severely ill daughter was admitted to a hospital 300 miles away from home – as that was the only specialist eating disorder bed available. “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” she said.

With a general election looming, the government has sought to address what they know is a huge issue. It is one that will not go away by shining a green light onto 10 Downing Street or tweeting out some topical hashtags.

People are dying tragically and needlessly. In the last year alone 200 school aged children were lost to suicide in Britain. Proper funding, staffing and a genuine commitment to parity of esteem is what’s needed, not just warm words.

The government has just committed £70m to employ 1000 new mental health staff across 12 pilot areas. The experience from the pilots will apparently inform new investment in all parts of England from this year, with all local health and care systems receiving additional funds for community mental health care from 2021/22.

However, how this will work remains to be seen. There is already a clinical vacancy rate of 50,000, and the amount of planned spending on mental health services within the NHS has already decreased by around £34 million in real terms since 2017/18.

The impact of Conservative austerity policies on the NHS and other public services has had a detrimental effect on the health of the nation. Half-heartedly trying to treat the symptoms after nearly ten years of neglect will not solve this problem, addressing the root causes of mental ill health is what is desperately needed.

As Ken Loach said at the summit: “It’s not just bad people in government doing bad things…We need social politics to renew our health services, where we remove the causes that help to generate the stress and difficulties people face.“

As an election now seems inevitable, it is more important than ever for campaigners, service users and health workers to draw attention to the facts of under-funding, and counteract government spin with hard evidence.

To truly see a change, the government must not only commit to mental health – but to reversing their damaging austerity policies too.

Samantha Wathen is the Press and Media Officer for Keep Our NHS Public.

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4 Responses to “Mental health provision is in crisis. Solving it requires more than warm words”

  1. Patrick Newman

    Mental Health has always been the ‘Cinderella’ of the NHS and the service has suffered especially in the Tory run down of the NHS. It is far from clear that the funding will be actually released. Just how much of the May largesse has found its way to the NHS and beyond to mental health? With Tory spending on the NHS, you have to pass through a room of smoke and mirrors before realising you are seeing a mirage! Johnson’s promise to build 40 more hospitals has already fallen apart and that is down to just 6 of which not one is a mental health facility.

  2. rob gardiner

    I attended Conference and having previously worked in the NHS as a mental health nurse I was shocked and angered by the accounts I heard from practitioners, patients, carers, bereaved parents, survivors. it represents another example of the actions and lack of actions by our current government. This government pretend to care and practise hypocrisy on a grand scale by spouting great projects for the future, whilst having a record of underfunding and under investment for the past decade. And suddenly they claim to have seen the light, but they cannot bring back those 200 children who died in the last year or repair those damaged lives of the children they have failed in the past.
    I will seek out the charter of demands referred to in the Article.

  3. Jill Brian

    Mental Health Services, especially for younger people, have been starved for many years as more urgent or visible specialities always took priority. Stress levels have increased due to austerity, uncertainty over Brexit and constant changes in the NHS and Education.

  4. Sandra

    Adult mental health care is also neglected. 6 years ago my youngest son (who’s now 48) was diagnosed with Bipolar it took me over 20 years of stress and nearly a mental breakdown myself to get him assessed and taken seriously. During that time he has suffered not knowing why he was feeling and acting as he was. He couldn’t keep a job for long yet he was a qualified carpenter joiner he found it hard to make friends and all his relationships failed, he’s lost everyone except us his parents. The only way he could feel normal was drinking now he is an alcoholic. 18 months ago he tried to take his life, he was admitted to hospital and to the mental health unit, but was treated for alcoholism and even drug abuse yet he doesn’t use drugs!! No assessment for his mental state or offered Counselling. I was not able to speak with any of the doctors that were to assess him, I was not allowed a contact number or an email to contact them. I needed them to know his case history so as he could be assessed correctly my concerns were totally rejected. He was discharged without any support and left to fend for himself homeless. He is one of the lucky though I feel because I’m still fighting his case 26 years later he’s not alone like many adults. He and thousands of adults are left to die they have been totally neglected forgotten let down

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