65 years ago today, the foundations of our modern National Health Service were laid based on the recommendations of a Liberal, William Beveridge. The founding principle that our NHS should always be free at the point of use endures today. The NHS now treats around a million people every 36 hours, with 300 million GP appointments each year. It is a national institution of which we are rightly proud.
However, the National Health Service is far from perfect. Significant changes are needed to cope with the challenges faced by the fact that people are living longer, and are living with an increasingly complex range of long-term health conditions. It is crucial that we find ways of working smarter, and in a more integrated way, to keep costs under control and ensure that individual patients don’t fall through gaps in the system. Nowhere, however, is the need for change clearer, and more acute, than in the field of mental health – and the gap in experience between those with physical health problems and people suffering from mental ill-health is worst when it comes to crisis care.
During our lives every one of us will either suffer from or have a relative or a close family friend that suffers from a mental health problem. 1 in 4 people will, at some point, experience some form of mental illness. In particular, by 2020 the number of people living with dementia is expected to exceed 1 million. But despite the high number of sufferers, there is often still a real stigma around the subject of mental health, which can make life even more difficult for those suffering from mental illness, and make it harder for them to manage the difficulties they face.
There are a whole host of stereotypes associated with people suffering from mental health conditions. These assumptions can come not only from society as a whole but from friends, employers, families and even sometimes from mental health services. Stigma can lead to people being excluded from everyday activities and can often worsen a patient’s mental condition, making it even more difficult to make a full recovery.
It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that people too often remain reluctant to go out and seek help with regards to mental health. This needs to change. People should be able to talk openly about having mental health problems, without fear of being stigmatised. We must do much more to remove the discrimination that mental health patients suffer, to make sure people can start the process of recovery, and move on with their lives.
That is why I have championed the idea of ‘parity of esteem’ so that mental health is treated as seriously as physical health. It is not fair that someone with a physical illness can get better care than someone with a mental health problem. We have given NHS England clear direction on achieving parity of esteem through the NHS Mandate, published for the first time last year, with specific objectives designed towards achieving parity. For the first time, there is now a clear obligation upon the NHS to be the primary leading force in changing attitudes and tackling stigma surrounding mental health.
As part of our work to ensure that the NHS continues to adapt, and to meet the needs of a changing society, the Government is today publishing its consultation on the refresh to the mandate for NHS England. This is everyone’s chance to have a say on the priorities for our NHS in the year ahead. It includes a strong message on prioritising mental health, and working in a more integrated way across the health system.
Key proposals include:
- ensuring acute and emergency care for people in mental health crisis are as accessible and high quality as they are for physical health emergencies;
- developing a range of options for funding and implementing waiting time targets for all mental health services by March 2015 and;
- extending and offering more open access to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) for children and young people and adults of working age.
To have your say as part of the consultation, click here.
* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015