Health Service Focus

28.10.19

The Importance of Mental Health

Source: NHE SEPT-OCT 19 

Geoff Heyes, head of health policy and influencing at Mind, outlines the importance of both NHS and local authority roles within shaping improvements to mental health care.

In recent years, leaders in the public and voluntary sectors have welcomed many mental health promises, from additional funding to innovative ideas for care in the community. But we should not underestimate the opportunity available now to change things for people living with mental health problems – both at a national level and in communities.

 The publication of the NHS Long Term Plan was a mental health milestone, recognising that mental health underpins almost all areas of health, and committing £2.3bn of ring-fenced funding a year for it. The plan is ambitious, including promises to support pregnant women and new mums, improve community care and increase access to treatments like counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy. Importantly, it recognises the urgency of improving mental health services for children. Given many problems begin before the age of 18, helping younger people get the support they need can help prevent problems becoming more acute.

 The Plan also makes clear that local authorities will be central to developing community-centred approaches to improving the health of local populations and will work in a collaborative way with healthcare providers. Other key pledges which local authorities may welcome include the prioritisation of primary care and community services rather than hospitals for extra resources, which could help ease pressure on social care.

 The plan provides a huge opportunity for local players to create the kind of mental healthcare most of us would want for ourselves and our families. We are now at the stage where this needs to be translated into reality.

 The NHS recently published its mental health implementation framework. Developed and tested with many of the same stakeholders as the Long Term Plan, it sets out further detail for local healthcare areas on how the plan can be delivered. These are now working up their own, detailed five year plans, including how they will work with local authorities to deliver promises.

 At Mind, we expect this process to involve as many people with lived experience of mental health problems as possible, as well as experts in the sector, like our network of 120 local Minds across England and Wales, which all provide unique quality mental health services based on local need and as such are well placed to ensure the plans propose practical action to meet the needs of the community. We also know local authorities are key enablers of progress, particularly when it comes to local agreements for how budgets should be allocated to cover social care.

 In some parts of the country, service users are being included from the very start of the process, such as in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly where a wide range of people have helped to shape and influence its draft mental health strategy including people who have used mental health services, young people, service, and patient representatives, such as Healthwatch.

 This example shows what is possible and Mind will continue to hold to account those in power at a national and a local level, to make sure that a similar process takes place across the country and every promise is delivered. We should not underestimate the scale of the challenge in ensuring the money ear-marked for mental health reaches the frontline and that national policy is translated into meaningful local action.

 We must not forget that behind these promises and processes, and despite significant change particularly in the last five years, there is still much to do to improve in the experiences of people trying to access NHS mental health services.

 No one can deny that mental health is on the agenda like never before, in part proved by its profile and prominence in the Long Term Plan, but we are still feeling the effects of historic underfunding every day. We know that a significant period of the time people only get help once they reach crisis point and, in total, fewer than four in 10 people with a mental health problem get any kind of support at all.

 While there is a lot is riding on these local plans to set the direction of travel for the coming five years, local decision makers must also not lose sight of the fact that we are in the middle of an existing five-year plan for mental health services. When Mind helped develop the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health in 2016, we did it with an understanding that new plans take time to get going, which made 2019 a critical year for delivery.

 Our mental health is affected by more than just NHS mental health services. We also need to see a strategy which shows that the Government will tackle the myriad social issues often underlying poor mental health, like changes to the benefits system, poor quality housing, insecure employment, pressures in schools and a lack of social care.

 Those of us with mental health problems deserve better and only when we start to get the support we need, when we need it, will we feel that we are making sufficient progress. Change is possible, but only with the full commitment and participation of the NHS and its partners from top to bottom. Proof of delivery will be in the experiences of people trying to access the services they need.

MORE INFORMATION

Tw: @MindCharity

W: www.mind.org.uk

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