Dan Parton cutRecent announcements by politicians indicate that mental health will be a priority for all parties in the forthcoming general election campaign. This can only be a good thing.

That mental health is the ‘Cinderella’ of health services has become a cliché in recent years. But, as with many clichés, there is more than a grain of truth in it.

For instance, recent years have seen continuing cutbacks in mental health services – children’s and adult – and talks of crisis have been common, with people struggling to access treatment and being sent hundreds of miles away from home when they do get it etc. There is also a feeling that politicians and those in power are quicker to address problems in physical services than in mental health.

But the signs are this could be starting to change – and that mental health could be a significant issue in the forthcoming election.

For instance, yesterday [January 19] demonstrated this, as Labour and the Liberal Democrats – as part of the coalition government – both made major announcements on mental health. 

Firstly, Labour leader Ed Milliband said that if Labour were to win the election, there would be a radical improvement in mental health provision with more emphasis on prevention, early intervention and better support – particularly for young people.

Meanwhile, Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was calling on all NHS trusts to commit to a new ambition for ‘zero suicides’ in order to dramatically reduce suicides in the health service. 

This adds to the existing rhetoric from the government on pushing towards achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health services and such things as the introduction of standardised waiting times for accessing mental health services from April.

All of the commitments from the leading three political parties are welcome. There are myriad problems within mental health services – too many to list here – and while these commitments may not sort out all of the issues, they could go some way to alleviating the more pressing problems. The issue of funding clearly needs to be addressed, not least of all because any major change to service delivery will incur costs and, potentially, cuts to other services. 

Of course, we all know that what is promised by politicians and party manifestos before a general election doesn’t necessarily come to fruition but that these sorts of announcements on mental health can only be a good thing.

It will then be up to whichever party – or parties – are in power come May 8 to deliver on their commitments, and the sector will have to push and lobby to ensure that they do. If – and that’s the keyword here – they do deliver, then better mental health services for everyone seems an achievable goal.