Kathy Roberts, Chief Executive, Mental Health Providers Forum
In the run up to the General Election, mental health featured as a major campaign issue, a focus which was welcomed by those of us in the mental health sector. The expectation is that now more attention will be paid to the social and economic arguments for a better consideration of the nation’s mental health and wellbeing, translating into efforts to extend and improve mental health services for the people who need them.
It has become an established fact that one in four people experience mental illness each year, with three out of four of those receiving no support for this at all. Mental health has been estimated to cost the UK economy £105bn each year and there are increasing pressures on both community and primary care as savings are sought across healthcare. Recent funding pledges have been made to improve children’s mental health and perinatal mental health support, as well as for the treatment of eating disorders, but cuts to mental health trust budgets and inpatient beds over the last few years have meant that the effectiveness of mental health services remains a real concern. There are also the proposed cuts to social care funding, where shortfalls have already resulted in increased demand for NHS community services, increased emergency and unplanned care admissions to hospitals and delayed transfers of care. The challenges posed by further spending cuts under the new Conservative Government will determine the provision of quality and effective mental health services.
The contribution of the mental health voluntary and community sector needs to be recognised as an essential part of answering these challenges. The sector has an established history that could be of significant value in reducing the burden on service provision across health and social care, with an innovative capacity and reach to provide services which are important for good mental health. Improvements in mental health care and support cannot be achieved without the sector and we would like to see greater engagement, with a focus on the wider inclusion and support of a range of type of provider who are able to deliver what people want and need.
Mental health has been pushed aside for far too long, with services lacking in comparison to their physical health counterparts. As part of the commitment to parity of esteem for mental health service, the Conservative Government manifesto said they will be enforcing access and waiting time standards for people experiencing mental health issues and ensure that therapists are available across the country to provide treatment to those who need it. The recent UK Council for Psychotherapy report highlighted the strain on publicly-funded services with 57% of practitioners reporting that waiting times have increased over 2014/2015. Accessing the right treatment at the right time can mean better recovery from a mental health problem. To ensure people receive timely help and support, there is a need to invest in psychological therapies and allocate resources for a wide range of mental health services. Within the voluntary and community sector there are a number of existing models which could support the statutory system to improve choice and access for people with mental health problems and there are many examples of successful partnership working between NHS, voluntary and community service providers. Investing in more of these would provide the opportunity for the creation of a new and more flexible system of comprehensive services addressing the need for more holistic, whole-person care.
Much of the current rhetoric also calls for an investment in prevention and early intervention services, to reduce the reliance on crisis care and ensure that people access appropriate services when they need them. The Mental Health Foundation has projected that by 2030 there will be around two million more adults and 100,000 more children and young people suffering from mental illness in the UK. Without significant investment in prevention services, it is likely that services will not be able to cope with this level of increased demand and there will be a missed opportunity for substantial cost savings. In this area too, voluntary and community services should be recognised for their essential role in community care, support and prevention of hospital admissions.
The challenges in health and social care are numerous, with increasing pressure on services, resources and workforce. As decisions are being made about the future of mental health care, the voluntary and community sector needs to be taken seriously as an equal planning partner. Their knowledge and involvement will ensure appropriate services are in place to meet the Government’s priority for better mental health for all.
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