Mark Winstanley RethinkA cross-party group of MPs and peers has called for an end to the ‘institutional bias’ against mental health in the NHS, and for the next government to accelerate efforts to bring mental health services up to the standard of those for physical health. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Mental Health, chaired by Conservative MP James Morris, held a year-long inquiry and found ‘unacceptably poor’ provision of mental health care, which the group said would not be tolerated in the rest of the NHS.

The APPG’s report found that there were three key areas where the lack of equality between mental and physical health services was most evident: 

Premature death: People with serious mental illnesses die on average 15–20 years earlier than those without

Emergency care: People experiencing a mental health crisis often do not receive timely and appropriate support from mental health services. In 2012/13 some 8,000 people were detained in police cells because of the lack of NHS alternatives

Public health: Despite 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, local authority public health strategies concentrate overwhelmingly on physical health, with just 1.4% of public health spending allocated to mental health.

The APPG’s recommendations include:

A national target for reducing premature death among people with mental health problems

A wider range of community support services to reduce the numbers of people experiencing a mental health crisis being held in police cells  

Mental Health Champions in all local authorities to ensure mental health is prioritised in public health strategies

A review of how Government ensures the NHS carries out its commitment to improving mental health services.

“Unacceptably slow” progress

James Morris MP, chair of the APPG on Mental Health said: “While there have been some good commitments from government and the NHS to improving mental health services, our inquiry found that progress has been unacceptably slow. There has been long-term failure over successive governments to give mental health equal priority with physical health; for too long poor quality mental health care has been tolerated in a way that would not be acceptable in physical health care. Swift action must now be taken to ensure that the one in four people who experience mental health in their lifetime get the treatment they need and deserve.”

In response, two leading mental health charities called for more funding to be put into mental health services. 

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “While there have been some very positive moves towards better services in recent years, a much more concerted effort is needed to overcome years of neglect and under-resourcing. The next few years needs to be a period for action. We need, above all, to see additional funding for NHS mental health services, to support the important recommendations the APPG has made.”

Mark Winstanley (pictured), chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, added: “As well as more funding for mental health services, we also need greater accountability and transparency about what the government, NHS England and commissioners are doing to improve care for people affected by mental illness. Only then can we ensure that everyone gets the right support for both their mental and physical health.”

 Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “While we welcome the fact that all three political parties are talking about mental health, and that it has never had a bigger profile, what we now need to see is good words translated into good deeds. Parity of esteem must be embedded into the mindset of all health professionals and policy makers, from the Secretary of State for Health to the local CCG [clinical commissioning group] commissioners. Only then can we ensure that people with mental health problems are treated with the same respect and dignity as those with physical health problems.”