A recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists outlined a series of recommendations for how mental health can achieve parity with physical health. Now it needs to happen – but that’s the tricky bit.
The report outlined that there are still significant inequalities between mental and physical health, including preventable premature deaths, lower treatment rates for mental health conditions and an underfunding of mental healthcare. Nothing revelatory about that, but it does indicate how much still needs to change before anything like parity can be claimed.
In addition, the report, aimed at influencing Government, policy-makers and health professionals, as well as the new NHS structures that came into force on April 1, made a series of recommendations about what needs to happen if equality is to be achieved.
It is hard to argue against any of the recommendations. For instance, the report recommends a major focus on improving the physical health of people with mental health problems, with public health programmes including a focus on the mental health dimension of issues commonly considered as physical health concerns, such as smoking, obesity and substance misuse. Many people within the sector have been saying this for years.
Likewise, many have called for commissioners to regard liaison doctors, who work across physical and mental healthcare, as a necessity rather than an optional luxury.
The other recommendations continue in a similar, sensible vein. In response, Care Services Minister Norman Lamb said he would consider the report’s findings and recommendations to think through what more the Government can do. He also urged others in the health and care system to do the same.
What can Government and health and care providers do? Take up these recommendations. It seems a no-brainer to me.
While this will take a large amount of time, effort and money to do – the usual stumbling blocks – these steps need to be taken. As is often mentioned, mental illness is responsible for the largest proportion of the disease burden in the UK (22.8%), larger than that of cardiovascular disease (16.2%) or cancer (15.9%). However, only 11% of the NHS budget was spent on services to treat mental health problems during 2010/11. It seems strange that this disparity still exists in the first place and is so large.
For too long mental health has been the Cinderella of healthcare, and while this has begun to change in the past couple of years, it needs to accelerate. Much has been written and said by Government and others about making this commitment to parity, but now the rhetoric needs to become reality with concrete policies, led from the top, to ensure this happens.