DanPartonDan Parton (30/10/12) believes the most important part of Ed Miliband's speech didn't make the headlines:


Ed Miliband has made headlines by criticising celebrities such as Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street Porter for demeaning and belittling people with mental health problems. But that was by no means the most important part of the speech he made.

In today’s issues of the Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, both lead their stories on Miliband’s speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists with his comments on Clarkson and Street Porter. BBC Radio 5Live also focused on that part of the speech.

While Miliband’s comments are valid, as is his point that the taboo around mental health needs to be challenged and that Clarkson’s and Street Porter’s comments do nothing to help achieve that aim, they again get away from the main points of his speech. In it, he called for the NHS Constitution to be rewritten to ensure that mental health has parity with physical health and that everyone has a right to access therapy. He also called for greater integration of mental, physical and social care services.

In amongst the many references to ‘One Nation Britain’, Miliband’s speech made a lot of sense, and mirrored what many more knowledgeable people within the sector have been saying for some time – and of course, echoes some of the commitments already made by the current Government.

That a party leader should give such a speech on mental health is also significant. Usually, it is health or care services ministers who do so, or more junior ministers within the team. But for a leader to speak out gives the issue a profile it might not ordinarily have.

This continues a theme established in parliament over the past few months. Increasingly, politicians have been more forthcoming about their own mental health issues – Charles Walker, the self-confessed “practicing fruitcake”, springs to mind – and the topic has been debated in the Commons.

So, after falling down the political agenda in the wake of the 2010 election – for example with the axing of the National Mental Health Development Unit and the 18-month wait for an implementation plan for the mental health strategy – it now seems mental health is creeping back up the political mind-set. About time too.

And now for the inevitable ‘but’: Miliband can make speeches like this that sound great, but that’s as far as it goes. His party isn’t in power and it is by no means certain they will be after the next general election – which won’t be for another 2½ years anyway.

It’s up to the current Government to ensure that mental health is given the priority it needs in the forthcoming NHS reforms. But taking on board some of Miliband’s ideas – such as enshrining a right to access therapy in the NHS Constitution – would be a good move.

The future improvement of mental health services is the crucial concern and should have the headlines – rather than comments about serial controversy-mongers who have little insight into the issue.


You can read a transcript of Miliband’s speech at www.labour.org.uk/speech-on-mental-health-to-the-royal-college-of-psychiatrists