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UK launches mental health drive, but draws cool response from campaigners

Only 1 in 3 young people with mental illness will be supported by the NHS, says patient group


The UK government has marked World Mental Health Day with new measures to try to reduce suicide rates, unveiled as it hosts what it says is the first ever global mental health summit in London.

Speaking at the two-day summit in front of ministers and officials from more than 50 countries, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said the intention is to put mental health “on an equal footing to physical health across the world.”

Jackie Doyle-Price

New suicide prevention role for health minister Jackie Doyle-Price

Among the measures to be implemented is the appointment of a minister for suicide prevention in England, a role which will be taken up by Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price, along with awareness-raising and support for young people in schools and further education with new mental health support teams and a £1.8m grant to help support the Samaritans helpline over the next four years.

“In her new role, the minister will lead government efforts to cut the number of suicides and overcome the stigma that stops people seeking help,” said the government. It says suicide rates are falling in the UK, but around 4,500 people are still taking their own lives every year.

A new campaign to train a million people in mental health awareness – Every Mind Matters – has also launched with a pilot in the West Midlands ahead of a national rollout next spring.

Not all are impressed with the news however. Natasha Devon, campaigner and former UK mental health czar, told the BBC’s Today programme this morning that the measures really don’t go far enough.

“During my nine months working with government my overall impression was that they were more interested in rhetoric and PR than they were in real action,” she said, adding: “the measures that have been taken this week do nothing to disabuse me of that.”

Devon went on to say that Doyle-Price has been minister for mental health since 2017 but “really absent from the landscape,” suggesting that tackling awareness and stigma isn’t really the primary task of government. Rather, it should be dealing with austerity and education policies that have been contributing to mental health issues in young people since 2010, such as increased testing in schools and positive programmes such as sports, art music and drama being “squeezed out of the curriculum”.

Mark Bush, director of policy at mental health charity Young Minds, told Today that there is “lots to welcome” in the initiative, as Theresa May is the first Prime Minister to make a national commitment to reforming mental health.

However, he cautioned that under current NHS targets only one in three young people with diagnosed mental illness will be supported by the NHS, with the others relying on families, friends and others, which he asserted “is not good enough in 2018.” While additional support in schools is a positive, it will help improve care and reduce waiting times if crisis care in the community is not also beefed up along with specialist care in the NHS.

Marjorie Wallace

SANE's Marjorie Wallace

That was a view echoed by Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, who said: “While we applaud the intention, it is striking that the UK should be hosting such a summit when we hear daily about people left untreated due to a lack of nurses and doctors.”

Wallace said that while Theresa May implemented a plan to tackle the ‘hidden injustice’ of mental illness two years ago, there are still alarming reports of care failures, including people being detained in police cells for up to six days for the lack of NHS beds; that one in four children referred to specialist services being turned away, and patients and their families having to travel hundreds of miles to receive inpatient care.

Lives are being damaged due to years-long waits to get treatment, she added. “We question the value of worthy initiatives to raise awareness while most individuals in the UK facing a crisis today struggle to receive any help at all.”

Meanwhile, Mind responded to the publication of data showing that almost 50,000 people have been detained under the Mental Health Act  in 2017-18, which is a 2.4% increase but likely an underestimate as not all providers submitted data.

The data contains further evidence of ‘worrying trends2, according to Vicki Nash, the charity’s head of policy and campaigns.

“More people are being detained against their will under the Act, while some black and minority ethnic groups continue to be over-represented, particularly regarding community treatment orders,” she said.

“Today’s statistics are yet another wake-up call about the urgent need to reform the Mental Health Act – which is currently under review – effectively.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

10th October 2018

From: Healthcare



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