Dan Parton(13/03/12) believes a minister for health would be a major step forward:


While Lord Richard Layard's recent call for a dedicated mental health minister in the Cabinet may not be a new one, it is certainly well worth the Government considering, especially if it is serious in its aim to put mental health on an equal footing with physical health.


Labour peer Lord Layard made this call at a lecture at theLondon School of Economics, where he claimed mental illness lies atthe root of Britain's social problems, and requires much moreattention from the Government.


Of course, those involved in mental health services - as professionals or users - have long called for Government to give greater priority to mental health. Given that mental health problems are said to affect one in four of us over our lifetimes -and cost the economy about £100 billion per year, according to the Mental Health Foundation - you would think it already would be.


While I haven't seen a Government reaction to this call, it would be a welcome move if such a post was to be created. There has been a sense among many in the sector that mental health does not have an effective voice in Government, especially since the demise of the National Mental Health Development Unit a year ago, and that it is therefore somewhat neglected as a policy concern. The relative lack of progress on the mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, in the year since it was launched, is often cited as proof of this lack of interest.


But the issue merits more than a ministerial appointment. Anamendment to the Health & Social Care Bill - still edgingtowards royal assent at the time of writing - will give the healthsecretary an explicit duty to put mental and physical health on anequal footing, but this is still far from being a reality.


With reform of health and social care now seemingly inevitable,and greater integration of the two a key aim, there is a uniqueopportunity for the Government to ensure that people with mentalhealth problems do benefit from an integrated service that is everybit as comprehensive as they would receive if they had a physicalillness. Talk of integration needs to be backed up with action and- crucially - money to ensure that this happens.


But, whether the opportunity is seized is another matter. Thereare still many concerns about the Bill - such as whether GPcommissioners can adequately commission mental health services -and it remains to be seen whether these fears are justified. Ifthey are, then equality for mental health services could end upbeing even further away than it is now - minister or nominister.