DH logoThe government has launched its mental health action plan, which outlines 25 areas it wants health and care services to take action on. 

It is hoped these actions will make a difference to the lives of people with mental health conditions.

These changes will mean that the system is fairer for people with mental ill health, according to the government. The plan, Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health, aims to encourage the NHS to put mental health on an equal footing with physical health.

This includes giving mental health patients more control over their care. From April, patients needing treatment for a mental health problem will be able to choose where they get their care in the same way that someone needing a hip or knee replacement can. This choice will not be limited to an NHS provider – patients will also be able to choose a voluntary or independent organisation providing NHS services when they go to see their GP to seek help.

However, it should be noted that this choice will not be on offer if the person needs emergency care, is in prison or detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Other key measures include:

From 2015, waiting time standards will begin to be introduced for mental health – giving mental health patients the same rights as someone with a physical health problem

The Friends and Family Test will be rolled out to mental health services so patients can give their own feedback on their care and mental health trusts will be able to take swift action if improvements are needed

Talking therapies will expanded so that 300,000 more people will get help

Children with mental health problems will get more support – including an aim to roll talking therapies for children and young people out to the whole country by 2018 and better support for children moving from adolescent services into adult services

£43 million will be invested in pilots on better housing for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities. Architects and builders will work with mental health experts and charities to bid for projects next year with the aim of new homes beginning to be built by 2017.

Out of the shadows

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said: “All too often, attitudes to mental health are stuck in the dark ages; full of stigma and stereotypes. It’s time for us to bring mental health out of the shadows and to give people with mental health conditions the support they need and deserve.

“Today we’re calling for action – across the NHS, the mental health sector and wider society – to champion change, to transform outdated attitudes and practices and to improve the lives of people with mental health problems.

“We recognise that we’ve got a mountain to climb. But we’re working hard to ensure that the needs of those with mental health problems are considered not just in the NHS, but also across our public sector: with better support in education, employment, the justice sector, housing and elsewhere.

“Ultimately, it’s going to take all of us working together to achieve the change in attitudes to mental health that we need, to create an environment together where it’s okay to talk about mental health.”

Jenny Edwards CBE, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation welcomed the launch of the plan and praised its sense of urgency. “We are encouraged to see that the action plan acknowledges the need to do more, and more quickly, in order to support the 1 in 4 people in this country who experience mental distress.

“We particularly welcome the renewed commitment to introduce minimum waiting times for adult mental health services from 2015, but we urge the Government to establish them for children and young people too - half of all lifetime cases of mental health problems begin before the age of 14.

“The action plan reflects that mental health cannot be addressed through the health service alone, and now it’s essential that all government departments address the urgency of mental health care, and are held accountable to their responsibilities and commitments in the mental health strategy.”

More than words

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of fellow charity Rethink Mental Illness, also welcomed the announcement, but warned that “warm words will only get us so far.” 

Jenkins added that NHS spending on mental health has been cut by 2% over the last two years, while demand is increasing. “If Mr Clegg really wants to bring mental health care into line with physical health, as the government has already committed, it’s never going to happen while budgets are being cut,” he said.

“The mental health action plan is a positive step forward, and identifies a lot of areas that need to be improved. The problem is that it’s too vague and does not make any solid commitments or give time-frames for action.  

“For example, everyone agrees that we need to introduce maximum waiting times for mental health but we still haven’t been given any commitments on when this will come into force. In the meantime our supporters are having to wait months or even years for life-saving treatment. This would never been seen as acceptable for cancer patients.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, also welcomed the action plan, and again emphasised the need for more funding to be given to mental health services: “The government must not underestimate the scale of the challenge it faces and needs to ensure that adequate resources are available to make these bold aims a reality,” he said.