Sue Bailey RCPsychA group of experts in mental health service provision want Prime Minister David Cameron to back the call for mental healthcare to be as important as physical and make the ‘parity of esteem’ commitment higher on the healthcare policy agenda.

This call was made by 5 experts in a debate held on November 19 and broadcast by the Health Services Journal. 

The speakers were:  

  • Sue Bailey OBE, president, Royal College of Psychiatrists (pictured)
  • Andy Bell, deputy chief executive, Centre for Mental Health
  • Stephen Dalton, chief executive, NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network
  • Dr Quazi Haque, group medical director, Partnerships in Care
  • Paul Jenkins, chief executive, Rethink Mental Illness.

Bailey stressed that mental healthcare education should be more integrated in training and education for all healthcare professionals including nurses and GPs. She called for Cameron to talk more about the urgency of reducing disparity of health outcomes for patients with mental health issues. This is against the background of the fact that while the NHS Mandate and the Health and Social Care Act 2012 aims for parity of esteem and progress by 2015, goals and ways to achieve this remain unclear.

“We should be more aggressive and sell the message harder. It would lead to cost savings in the end,” added Bailey who also pointed out that medical students were lucky if they received four weeks of training in mental health trusts, something the panel agreed was not enough.

Much progress still to be made

Dr Haque agreed that while the Prime Minister’s voice would add impetus to the debate, that there is much progress still to be made to improve timely intervention and access for people to mental health services. He added that he was confident the debate was moving in the right direction, with attention given to facilitating patient choice and personalisation. 

Meanwhile, Dalton called for regulators to play a role in ensuring systems were designed around service users’ needs, not GPs – a danger of the present Quality Outcomes Framework payment system. Both Dalton and Bailey said that there is too much focus on acute hospitals in the response to the mid-Staffordshire review and not enough on the mental health sector.

He added that a clinical-led approach would have more chance of succeeding, where clinicians together could focus on people with co-morbidity and long-term conditions. 

In conclusion, Dr Haque said it will take cooperation by multiple stakeholders to make parity of esteem a reality but econd best for mental health must never be accepted.

In summing up, Jenkins said that a great deal of progress was yet to be made before parity of esteem for mental health could be a reality.