In 2008, the Labour government gave patients the legal right to choose who provides their care when referred by a GP. Scandalously, however, that right was specifically denied to mental health service users – a clear, institutionalised bias against mental health services and service users who had to take what they are given, whether they like it or not.Until now.
On Thursday Nick Clegg announced that all this will change. From April 2013, anyone with a mental illness who needs to see a consultant as an outpatient will be able to choose which doctor will be in charge of their treatment. From April 2014, they will be able to choose which hospital they go to. As well as making a major practical difference to people’s lives, giving them a say over their treatment, this move strikes a clear symbolic blow in bringing mental health services – for too long treated as a Cinderella service – into line with physical health services.
It is clear from posts elsewhere on these pages that the Lib Dems ‘get’ the importance of mental health. This drive to end the bias against mental health services is all down to the Liberal Democrats in Government. I am passionate about mental health but Nick Clegg has always been there arguing exactly the same case. He was the first party leader to speak about mental health in opposition – and, in Government, he has delivered.
By March 2015 we want to see real and meaningful progress towards true equality between mental health and physical care. This ambition was set out in the NHS Mandate published last month. This week’s announcement brings us another step closer to making the rhetoric about ‘parity of esteem’ a reality.
* Norman Lamb MP is Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health