Paul JenkinsThe All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Mental Health has launched an inquiry to examine the government’s progress in implementing its commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical health in the NHS.

The inquiry will, over the next six months, focus on issues like premature mortality for people with severe mental illness, the standard of emergency care they receive, and how far national and local decision-makers are going to make mental wellbeing a public health priority.

Later this year, the APPG will publish a report that assesses the government’s progress in these areas and make recommendations on what more should be done to make parity of esteem a reality.

But, as Paul Jenkins (pictured), CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, noted, equality for mental and physical health is “far from a reality in practice.” He highlighted the charity’s 2013 report, Lethal Discrimination, which found that about 30,000 people with mental illness die needlessly each year, largely because they’re not getting proper support for their physical health. 

“This needs to change – people with severe mental illness should not be treated as second class citizens,” Jenkins said.” We hope this inquiry will spur the government into taking action to make parity a reality in the NHS. The lives and wellbeing of millions of people affected by severe mental illness could depend on it.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, added: “The stigma of mental health acts as a barrier towards people with mental health problems getting the same help and support as those with physical health problems. The government's commitment to the principle of parity of esteem is welcome but it needs to be translated into practice. Without this approach, people with mental health problems will continue to struggle to get the help they need. This is unacceptable.

“That’s why we welcome this inquiry, which is vital in ensuring mental health finally gets the attention and investment it needs, and in turn improving the quality of the life for the huge number of individuals affected by mental health problems.”

Professor Dame Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Parity is, in essence, about valuing mental health equally with physical health, and providing care for the whole person. 

“In March 2013, we published a landmark report setting out recommendations for action in this area. We hope this detailed inquiry will assess how much progress has been made so far, and make clear recommendations for helping to ensure both high-quality care and treatment for mental health, including for people with long-term physical health conditions, and appropriate physical health treatment for people mental health problems.”