Norman Lamb writes: A landmark for the NHS – and a line in the sand for mental health

The first mandate between the Government and the NHS Commissioning Board was published today, setting out the priorities for the health service over the next two years. It reaffirms our commitment to a comprehensive and universal NHS, available to all based on need rather than on your ability to pay. Its overriding aim is to make the NHS work better for patients.

The Mandate was drawn up following widespread consultation over the summer. Key goals contained within it include:

  • Improving standards of care, especially for the elderly
  • Better diagnosis, treatment and care for people with dementia
  • Better care for women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period
  • Making it easier for patients to give feedback
  • Making it easier to access GP services – booking appointments and ordering repeat prescriptions, and accessing your own health records – online
  • Preventing premature deaths from the biggest killers
  • Putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health

There is lots to be pleased about within the Mandate: its focus on outcomes rather than processes, on quality of care as well as quality of treatment, and on the patient’s experience rather than the institution’s convenience.

However, one aspect that we can be particularly proud of is the attention that is paid to mental health. Rather than being treated as a separate minority concern, awareness and consideration of mental health is written right through the Mandate.

At Liberal Democrat Conference in September we had a very good debate about what more could and should be done to improve matters for people suffering from mental health problems in this country. ‘Parity of esteem’ (placing mental health care on a par with physical health care) is now written in to the Mandate and ensuring more open access to the IAPT programme (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), highlighted at Conference, is one of the ways in which this will be measured.

Ed Miliband seems only recently to have woken up to this issue – perhaps because he can see that the Coalition is determined to make genuine progress on this. The last Labour government consistently treated mental health as a second class service: introducing an 18-week waiting time target for physical health but not for mental health and specifically excluding mental health service users from the right to choose where, and by whom, you are treated. The absurd but inevitable result was a health service in which the bias towards physical health has been institutionalised, despite all the evidence demonstrating the fundamental importance of mental health.

Today’s publication of the Mandate marks a line in the sand. I have talked before, both on these pages and elsewhere about moving from rhetoric to reality. The Mandate does this. It is a statement of intent, of our commitment to improving mental health care in this country. It also, crucially, clearly sets out how the Commissioning Board will be held to account for delivering on that commitment.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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5 Comments

  • Norman Lamb side stepped the issue that mental health funding has fell for the first time in ten years. How can Norman argue Labour didn’t recognise the importance of mental health while the coalition’s funding for it has fallen?

  • It’s a very good thing that, at last, mental health is being treated with the seriousness it deserves, but when you’ve been waiting over six months (as I have) for any kind of treatment beyond medication and a leaflet about crisis services, it all seems like a lot of talk and still no change.

  • If they are serious about the NHS being about need and not ability to pay, how about abolishing prescription charges? I have to pay for medicine that I need.

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