Dan Parton(14/02/12) wonders why an amendment was needed before mental health was put on an equal footing with physical health ...


Last week, the House of Lords made an amendment to the Healthand Social Care Bill which will place a duty on the HealthSecretary to give mental health the same priority as physicalhealth. But you have to ask; why wasn't the commitment there in thefirst place?


The amendment, tabled by cross-bench peer Lord Patel, was passedby a margin of 4 votes. Three Liberal Democrat peers rebelledagainst the Government.

This is good news, although the margin of the vote still seemsawfully close for something that is vitally important for allmental health service users.

But that the amendment was even needed was a surprise. When theGovernment's mental health strategy 'no health without mentalhealth' was launched last year amid much fanfare, one of its keytenets was putting mental health on a par with physical health.Doesn't the title say it all?

At the time, the consensus was that this was long overdue, andit was hoped that it would be the end of mental health beingtreated as a 'Cinderella' service that often lagged behind thoseconcerned with physical health. But all that seems to have beenforgotten somewhere along the way - until the Lords intervened.

The need for mental health to have a higher priority in healthservices is undeniable, and, handily, the Centre for Mental Healthand think-tank, The King's Fund, published statistics last week,that back up this assertion.

They report that the failure to treat mental illnessesappropriately adds some £8 billion to the costs of treatinglong-term conditions like diabetes and heart disease, as well asdramatically increasing a patient's risk of dying prematurely fromthose conditions.

This report also adds weight to calls for greater integration ofphysical and mental health services. Again, this is something thatthose across the sectors have been calling for, for years, butnever quite seems to have happened.

Hopefully the Government will accept the amendment, althoughthis is not guaranteed, as the recent Welfare Reform Bill debatesshowed, with MPs overturning some of the Lords' amendments toemployment and support allowance clauses.

Of course, all of this is assuming that Government doesn'tabandon the Bill entirely, as some of its many critics - includingmental health bodies, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists -have called for. But from what Prime Minister David Cameron andHealth Secretary Andrew Lansley have said, the Government isdetermined to see the Bill through Parliament, despite theincreasing opposition to it.

If that is to be the case, then the amendment could at leasthelp to give mental health the prominence it deserves and breakdown some of the boundaries that still exist between services andperhaps even start to make a difference to the mental health of thenation.