milibandLabour leader Ed Miliband has said that if his party wins the general election, there will be a radical improvement in mental health provision with more emphasis on prevention, early intervention and better support – particularly for young people.

Miliband’s commitment came at the launch of Stephen O’ Brien’s independent Mental Health Taskforce report, which he commissioned more than two years ago. He said the scandal of failure and false economies in this neglected area is costing billions of pounds a year as well as increasing pressure on the NHS and hospital services.

“Taking action to improve mental health is essential if we are to thrive as a nation and ensure the NHS remains sustainable,” Miliband said. “The approaches proposed in this report – prevention, early intervention and better support – are key to achieving that. It is an excellent roadmap for change as we draw up our programme for action. This government’s failure and false economies on mental health need to be replaced with smart investments that will save money and put our NHS on a sustainable footing so it can meet the challenges of the 21st Century as well as it did the last.”

The report highlights how half of all hospital in-patients have a mental health condition, that rising numbers of young people need serious mental health support, and unaddressed mental health problems are costing the NHS billions each year in terms of worse physical health.

Miliband said that Labour’s 10-year plan for the NHS, which will be unveiled later this month, will contain key measures to integrate mental and physical health provision with social care to ensure problems get identified and addressed as early as possible.

These include ensuring that the training of all NHS staff includes mental health so problems get spotted. At the same time people with complex physical and mental health conditions will be given a single point of contact for all of their care.

Focus on child mental health

Miliband pledged more action on child mental health, which is among the priority areas identified by the report, and said that a renewed commitment to early intervention should also guide the work of the next Labour government in this area.

O’Brien’s report highlighted that just 6% of the mental health budget is spent on children, even though three quarters of adult mental illness begins before the age of 18. Also, a growing number of young people are being placed in adult wards, and many sent hundreds of miles for hospital care as a result of bed shortages.

“It cannot be right that when three quarters of adult mental illness begins in childhood, children’s mental health services get just 6% of the mental health budget – nor that these vital services have been stripped back in recent years while £3 billion has been wasted on an NHS reorganisation,” said Miliband.

“Labour will work to reverse the damage suffered by child mental health services under this Government. And we will set an ambition that, over time, the proportion of the mental health budget spent on children will rise as we make smart investments to improve mental health in childhood, in the process lessening some of the demand on mental health services when young people turn into adults.”

He added that in future all teachers should have training in child mental health so they are equipped to identify, support and refer children with mental health problems. Good child mental health is critical for academic attainment and future employment prospects: children with emotional problems are twice as likely to struggle with reading, spelling and maths.

“Around 10% of children at any one time have a diagnosable mental health problem – that’s three in every classroom. Yet of these, almost three quarters get no help. That has to change and under Labour it will. I want to ensure that any child who is struggling gets linked up with the help and support they need.”

Labour also supports a recommendation in the report for local authorities, the NHS and schools to work together to ensure all children can access school-based counselling or therapy if they need it.

Likewise, another report recommendation has received the party’s backing: to expand talking therapies and work towards a 28-day waiting-time standard for access to adult and young people’s talking therapies.

The report says that a 28-day standard, with 80% seen within 28 days, would ensure more people get quicker access to treatment. While the current average wait for adults to access talking therapies is five weeks, in some clinical commissioning groups average waits are up to three months. Investment in evidence-based talking therapies saves money on the costs of failure: according to the government figures, it saves £1.75 to the Exchequer for every £1 invested, through reduced physical healthcare costs and reduced welfare costs.

This report came on the same day as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called on all NHS trusts to commit to a new ambition for ‘zero suicides’ in order to dramatically reduce suicides in the health service.