Monday, 12 November 2012

Hope yet for parity esteem for mental health issues

Hope yet for parity esteem for mental health issues


Mihir Magudia is Head of Strategy & Public Affairs for St Andrew’s Healthcare, the UK’s largest mental health charity that provides more services to the NHS than any other charity. On his blog, Spotlight, he praises Norman Lamb for signalling “parity of esteem” between mental health and physical health treatment at a recent conference:

Earlier today at the Mental Health Network’s Annual Conference, the new Minister of State for Care & Support, who has responsibility for mental health, delivered a strong speech on his plans for the future of mental health.

Norman Lamb has long been known to be passionate about mental health, indeed those of us in the sector have been fairly fortunate in having ministers who seemed to have a good focus on mental health care and understood the priority that it needs. Paul Burstow, Phil Hope and Ivan Lewis are all former mental health ministers who knew their brief well, our new minister is no exception.

The theme of the speech focused on moving from “rhetoric to reality,” this means translating all the positive words we have heard about how we must do more for people with mental health services into action that makes those words mean something. Rhetoric to reality is a well used phrase in mental health and I well remember Ivan Lewis emphasising it a great deal when he was a minister under the last government.

However, Norman Lamb went further than his predecessors.After rightly pointing out that people with mental health problems suffer from an institutional disadvantage in the health system (mentioning how they have been ignored by the reforms on waiting times, choice and payment by results) he went on to call for something very specific.

A statutory entitlement for people with mental health services to access services on exactly the same terms as people with physical health problems.

Now on first glance, this might seem obvious, but for anyone familiar with mental health services, this would be a huge step forward:

From people in prison or living homeless on the streets to people suffering from mild depression and anxiety, there are huge problems in accessing services and huge delays which worsen people’s mental health conditions.

Norman Lamb’s suggestion, if implemented, would revolutionise services for people with mental health problems and ought to betaken up as government policy. It’s a shame that it’s not (yet), but I understand from early indications about the forthcoming NHS Mandate, that there will be hardly a page where mental health does not feature and there is an emphasis on access to genuine choice for patients and service users.

I don’t know when or if we’ll get to genuine equality between mental and physical health, but the speech I heard today makes me far more hopeful that that day will actually come.

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