Dan Parton cutAn inquiry into progress towards parity of esteem for mental health, and an action plan for improved services have been announced so far this year – but solid implementation targets are really needed.

It has long been a criticism of this government that it hasn’t seen mental health as a priority – especially after it closed the National Mental Health Development Unit back in 2011 – but so far this year it has been high on their agenda, if the announcements coming from the Department of Health are anything to go by.

First came the mental health action plan. That sounds dynamic, but there wasn’t enough on how the changes in the plan will be delivered for many people’s liking. It also demonstrated the failure of the government’s mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, as the action plan contained many similar priorities, showing how little had changed in the nigh-on three years since the strategy was launched.

Then last week, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Mental Health announced it was launching an inquiry into the government’s progress towards its commitment on parity of esteem for mental and physical health.

The APPG inquiry will, over the next six months, focus on issues like premature mortality for people with severe mental illness, the standard of emergency care they receive, and how far national and local decision-makers are going to make mental wellbeing a public health priority. It will then publish a report on its findings and make recommendations on what more should be done to make parity a reality.

While this sounds good – it seems to be focusing on many of the crucial issues – its timing seems odd, coming so soon after the action plan, which prioritises closing the gap between mental and physical health.

Surely the inquiry will just highlight the same things that the action plan did? And won’t the recommendations be the same as well, given that only limited progress, at best, will be made in the time before the Inquiry reports back? I think the issues in the mental health system – and the ways it lags behind physical health – are well known, as, arguably, are most of the solutions.

To me, another inquiry will only tell us what we already know, just as the action plan didn’t contain any truly new thinking. Rather than more talk, what is really needed is a clear implementation plan, with solid commitments, targets, budgets (including additional funds to make the changes) and timeframes identified. This also needs to be joined up with physical healthcare services, as well as other areas of social care, such as housing and employment. 

There is a willingness within the mental health sector especially to make the changes necessary to bring mental health care up to the same standard as physical. Now, that has to happen. The time for talk is over – action is needed; otherwise, the same cycle of inquiries, plans and strategies will continue, without any real change being effected.