jezhuntFour mental health organisations have called on the government to make its commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical health to be made reality as the latter launched its consultation to refresh the NHS Mandate.

Charities Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, the Mental Health Foundation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have welcomed the government’s commitment to do more to put mental and physical health on an equal footing, but are concerned that the consultation does not include measures to address the “scandal” of people with mental ill health dying on average 15-20 years earlier than the general population.

The consultation to refresh the NHS Mandate for 2014/15 proposes to ask NHS England to build on its existing objectives including putting mental health on a par with physical health.

It will set out that more needs to be done to ensure people with mental ill health are able to get the help they need in a crisis and can also access help and support earlier in their lives.

Proposals include:

• Ensuring acute and emergency care for people in mental health crisis are as accessible and high quality as they are for physical health emergencies
• Ensuring that there is adequate liaison psychiatry services to support effective crisis care
• Developing a range of options for funding and implementing waiting time targets for all mental health services by March 2015
• Extending and offering more open access to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) for children and young people and adults of working age.

The Department of Health will consult on proposals over the summer and a final version will be published in the Autumn 2013.

Addressing scandal of early deaths

In a joint statement the four mental health organisations said. “This new mandate makes it very clear that accessible, high quality care should be a given regardless of whether you have a mental or physical health problem. When someone attends an accident and emergency department with a broken leg they can expect to receive timely care, but at the moment people with mental health problems experiencing a crisis don’t always get the urgent help they need and this must change.  

“We welcome the commitment for NHS England to develop waiting times for talking therapies by March 2015, which should make a real difference in making sure that no matter who you are or where you live, you have access to these therapies if you need them.

“However, we are concerned that [the] update fails to address the scandal of people with mental illness dying early. If [Health Secretary] Jeremy Hunt really wants to make a difference to the lives of people with mental illness, we need to address their poor physical health.

“People with serious mental illness die on average 15-20 years earlier than the rest of the population, which means that thousands of people are dying too soon every year. When such stark evidence has been presented for other conditions, such as diabetes, action has followed. The same is not true for mental health.

“Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly said that we wants to reduce avoidable deaths in the NHS, but he isn’t tackling the issue of people with mental health problems dying early. We want to see a mandate that includes targeted support for people with a mental illness such as regular physical health checks and help to give up smoking. These simple measures could save thousands of lives.”