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15.09.15

Labour leader creates new cabinet-level mental health post to ‘tackle crisis’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has created a post in his shadow cabinet designed to address mental health issues in the NHS.

The new shadow minister for mental health, Luciana Berger MP, will work solely on mental health and assess how the NHS and the government and can address and prioritise its issues.

There is no equivalent post in the Conservative government – mental health is just one of the duties handled by care minister Alistair Burt MP, whose job is at ‘minister of state’ level, one rung below the full Cabinet.

Corbyn announced the post yesterday (14 September), alongside the rest of his shadow cabinet.

He said: “I am delighted that we have established a shadow cabinet position for mental health, which is a matter I have long been interested in.”

Berger, who was previously shadow minister for public health, will report to Heidi Alexander MP, the new shadow health secretary, replacing Andy Burnham MP who is taking over as shadow home secretary.

Berger has previously spoken out against an increase in self-harm and suicide attempts by mental health patients in NHS units, calling it “deeply concerning” and a result of squeezed services and fewer specialist doctors, nurses and beds.

Corbyn attended a mental health related event in his constituency on his first full day as party leader on Sunday, held to promote the work of Camden & Islington NHS FT, whose director of nursing & people recently spoke to NHE about the ‘technological revolution’ at the trust.

During the event, Corbyn visited stands and met patients and staff, seeking to “support the work of the trust and all the volunteer groups and all the other groups that come together to build that community around mental health”.

In a speech in Parliament in February, Corbyn said: “I dream of the day when this country becomes as accepting of these problems as some Scandinavian countries are, where one prime minister was given six months off in order to recover from depression, rather than being hounded out of office as would have happened on so many other occasions.

“The access point to mental health services is usually the GP. This is the great thing about the NHS, although sometimes it is the problem of the NHS. A GP surgery at its best is brilliant, recognises the holistic needs of the patient and does its best to accommodate those holistic needs. The GP system at its worst is a single-handed GP who may have been there a very long time, become rather set in their ways, is not very interested in people coming to them with stress or other psychiatric-related problems, and does not refer them for any kind of therapy or counselling.

“I am concerned about the length of time people wait for counselling or support. The strain on publicly funded therapy services means that the private psychotherapy sector is increasingly ‘picking up the pieces’ with individuals who have been failed by the NHS.

“I want the NHS to be there and available for all. I do not want it to ration its services that those with fairly desperate needs are forced to suffer, seek voluntary help if they can get it or, if they can afford it, get private support.”

He had also criticised the fact that those with a mental health condition who go for a Department of Work and Pensions ‘availability for work’ test will not display it as obviously and quantifiably as a physical health condition. Despite this, these “forced tests” can cause “unbelievable” stress levels as their condition is often ignored and they are deemed fit for work.

His policies on the subject include growing mental health budgets to accompany a 20% rise in service demand, challenging the stigma around it, terminating “second class treatment” of mental illnesses in the state service, employing more specialist professionals and ensuring mental health is taught in schools.

Corbyn specifically wants to launch a national study into the mental health of children and young people whilst simultaneously increasing investment in children’s mental health services, as well as focusing on women’s mental health issues due to misogyny and sexual objectification.

Speaking ahead of his policy launch, he had said: “Britain has a mental health crisis, and this government is making it worse. The Tory rhetoric about improving mental health provision has been accompanied by cuts in funding, services and support for people with mental health needs.

“I am committed to a holistic approach that sees emotional wellbeing as fundamentally connected with a society less atomised and individualistic and more socially connected, more caring, more inclusive and more equal.”

(Top image c. John Stilwell, PA Images)

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