Sean DugganNearly 1 in 10 health and wellbeing boards do not have mental health among its list of priorities, while many others do not focus on specific goals in the area, research has found.

The Centre for Mental Health reviewed 100 joint health and wellbeing strategies of health and wellbeing boards and found that nine did not include mental health in their priorities at all. 

The most commonly prioritised area was the needs of children and young people (in 55% of strategies) but some areas such as the mental health needs of homeless people (5%) and support for people with mental health problems to give up smoking (5%) were only found in a small number of strategies.

Health and wellbeing boards took up their full role in April and bring together local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, local Healthwatch, public health, social care and children’s services leaders to improve the health and wellbeing of their local populations. Boards need to fulfil three key functions: to carry out a joint strategic needs assessment on the health needs of their local population; to produce a joint health and wellbeing strategy setting health priorities based upon these health needs; and to promote greater integration and partnership, including joint commissioning, integrated provision and pooled budgets where appropriate.

A Place for Parity: Health and wellbeing boards and mental health looked at how much focus the boards have given to mental health in their joint health and wellbeing strategies, which areas of mental health are focused on and what factors helped or hindered the agenda of mental health during the development of the strategies. 

The report makes recommendations for health and wellbeing boards, mental health organisations and policy makers, including: 

Encouraging boards to actively consult with mental health service users, carers and professionals, to ensure their views are fully taken into account when setting local priorities

Encouraging and supporting boards to bring in or delegate a mental health ‘champion’

Looking into further regulations that should be developed to ensure that minimum standards are met by strategies.

Sean Duggan (pictured), chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “Health and wellbeing boards are in a unique position to identify key areas for implementing real change in their communities. It is imperative that all boards take mental health into consideration – not only because of the key role they will play in working towards parity of esteem but because mental health is an essential part of everybody’s overall health.

“We have found some examples of exciting, innovative approaches in some joint health and wellbeing strategies. But many boards have given little priority to mental health. Not only is this a missed opportunity to tackle some of the complex needs that exist, including cross over between mental health problems and alcohol, for example, but it also means that health considered through the prism of physical health alone.

“We hope that by identifying the opportunities for health and wellbeing boards to improve people’s mental health and life chances in their strategies we can see more councils make significant changes in their communities. We hope that boards will create successful local initiatives that not only improve the health of their local population but also create more effective commissioning of a range of local services.”