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Jul 21

Tackle the mental health crisis to save lives

CQC mental healthThe government’s failure to live up to its promises is starkly exposed by its inability to tackle the crisis in mental health.

Despite repeated claims by the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt and successive Tory Prime Ministers that mental health is a priority that would achieve parity with physical health and that billions of pounds of new money were being sent to the frontline, the health regulator the Care Quality Commission has this week exposed the reality on the ground.

Too many people can’t get the help they need at all. Now the CQC has shone a light on long waits to get treatment and the lengthy stays on hospital wards that are too restrictive for those that do manage to access a bed.

In short, too many patients are being failed and services neglected. The Tories have failed to deliver the leadership, the funding and the staff needed to turn mental health around.

The CQC found examples of ‘outdated and sometimes institutionalised care’ taking place in hospitals that are often a long way from home, leaving people isolated from support networks of friends and families.

It also found serious shortages of:

  • mental health nurses, whose numbers have fallen by 12 per cent since 2010;
  • Psychiatric beds – down by 4 per cent since 2014.

Staff are rightly praised for providing compassionate care, but this against a background of rising demand, with detentions under the Mental Health Act up 26 per cent since 2012.

In fact, ‘high demand, workforce shortages, unsuitable buildings and poor clinical information systems’ pose serious challenges to any kinds of improvement in mental health services

This is a terrible record chalked up by a failing government.

Labour’s manifesto at the last General Election recognised the scale of the problem – ‘mental ill-health is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age’ – and set out how a Labour government would keep its promises.

A Labour government would ring-fence mental health budgets to ensure that funding reaches the frontline and bring treatment closer to home by ending out-of-area placements.

Most importantly of all, a Labour government would invest in prevention and early intervention, tackling problems early to stop them becoming crises later.

Under Labour, the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people would rise and all children in every secondary school would have access to a counselling service.

Tory failings have a high human cost. We must never forget that suicide is the leading cause of death among young people between 20-34 in the UK, and the single most common cause of death in men under 45.

Tackling the crisis in mental health and making a genuine commitment, backed up by a properly-resourced plan, to achieve parity with physical health saves lives.

It is that important. And Jeremy Hunt and his government is letting use down.