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Clegg to chair Mental Health Taskforce

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is to chair a new Mental Health Taskforce aimed at bringing issues about mental health services “out of the shadows” and changing “outdated attitudes”. 

The taskforce, which will include cabinet members from across the coalition government, are to meet within days to examine how mental health services for young people can be improved and what help can be provided for getting people back into work. 

In addition, it will look at how crisis care can be improved – preventing large numbers of people with severe mental health problems ending up in police cells and prisons. 

Cabinet ministers sitting on the taskforce include the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt; home secretary Theresa May; communities secretary Eric Pickles; education secretary Nicky Morgan; justice secretary Chris Grayling; business secretary Vince Cable; work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith; chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and ministers from education, health and defence. 

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at the Foundation Trust Network, said: “The deputy prime minister’s taskforce on mental health marks a further milestone in parity between mental and physical health, and the involvement of senior government ministers is clearly welcome. 

“However, everyone in the mental health community agrees that it is now time to translate high level political commitment into investment and action. We look forward to the imminent announcement from Monitor and NHS England on how health services will be paid for next year.” 

Clegg has been campaigning on mental health issues for years, focussing on bringing treatment for mental health problems in line with physical health, and ending years of discrimination. 

Last month, he announced a £120m investment in mental health, which will include the introduction in April 2015 of the first ever waiting time standards for mental health in the NHS. 

FTN’s Cordery added that it is vital that investment in the mental health sector needs to not only meet the waiting and access targets that will be introduced next year, but also to ensure that those providing services can meet rising demand, deliver high quality care and focus on meeting all types of mental health needs. 

“Mental health affects every aspect of our lives. One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem and it costs the country more than £100bn,” Clegg said. “This is too big an issue for the NHS to deal with alone.” 

The deputy PM added that the whole of government needs to combine its efforts and pool its resources to help the millions of people whose mental health condition is preventing them from getting on in life. 

“It is time to turn a corner on outdated attitudes and bring mental health issues out into the open,” said Clegg. “It is time that the whole of society started providing the care and support to those with mental health conditions in the same way that they would to those with a physical condition.” 

(Library image: c. Dave Radcliffe) 

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Dr Phil Barber   26/11/2014 at 14:17

There is one critical aspect of mental health care which will not be addressed by 'changing attitudes'. It is the virtual disappearance of medical psychiatry as a diagnostic and therapeutic discipline available to patients and referring clinicians. Not only is this a serious problem in workforce terms, but also a major issue in respect of team working in mental health, with no clear medical leadership informing on diagnosis and management. Instead, patients are seen (often with some resistance) by overworked 'teams' with no medical qualifications, who often simply pass the buck back to the GP who requested specialist help in the first place, and with no scheduled consultation with a qualified psychiatrist. The occasional catastrophic events which make the headlines represent the extreme tip of a massive iceberg of deprivation and morbidity, and specialist help with diagnosis and treatment is almost impossible to come by, sometimes even for the most seriously disturbed patients. It is not at all clear, for example, how a patient presenting with psychiatric manifestations of a neurological or other physical illness would ever be diagnosed under the existing arrangements, particularly if the clinical issues were complex or obscure, as they often can be. No progress has been made, either, with the stated and courageous aim of recent legislation to equalise access to mental and physical health care. Nick Clegg certainly has a job on his hands, but to address it he needs to be aware of where the deficiencies lie, and the comprehensive de-medicalisation of psychiatry as a clinical discipline is undoubtedly one of them.

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