The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) recently launched a manifesto that urges the next government to ensure mental and physical health are given equal value, but whether this will actually happen is quite another matter.
With a general election on the horizon, manifestos are en vogue at the moment, with the RCPsych more active than most in publishing these documents. Its latest calls for parity between mental and physical health, which comes hard on the heels of one outlining key areas to improve the lives of people with mental ill health – jointly published with 5 other leading mental health organisations.
The latest manifesto has 6 core points, which will be familiar to anyone working in, or in receipt of, mental health services:
• Everyone who requires a mental health bed should be able to access one in their local NHS Trust area, unless they need specialist care and treatment
• No-one should wait longer than 18 weeks to receive treatment for a mental health problem
• Everyone experiencing a mental health crisis, including children and young people, should have safe and speedy access to quality care, 24 /7
• Every acute hospital should have a liaison psychiatry service which is available 7 days a week, for at least 12 hours per day. Emergency referrals should be seen within 1 hour, and urgent referrals within 5 working hours
• A minimum price for alcohol of 50p per unit should be introduced
• There should be national investment in evidence-based parenting programmes.
Nothing ground-breaking there, and all of these steps would go some way to giving mental health parity with physical health. But the elephant in the room is – as always – funding. Without more money going to mental health services, there will be no chance of delivering these outcomes.
But while these are familiar points, it is well worth making them again. That they need to be shows how little progress is being made to turn the commitment to ensuring mental health has parity with physical health into reality.
While political leaders such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have been making the right noises recently, pledging to improve the lives of people with mental ill health and that their care will be a core issue for their parties, these words need to be turned into action, and quickly.
The party conference season has seen battle lines begin to be drawn for next May’s election, with health set to be a key issue: Labour, for instance, made big commitments to the future of the NHS and the Conservatives responded with pledges of their own.
It remains to be seen what focus will be placed on mental health in all of this, but it has to be a major consideration – services are creaking and need reform. If the party election manifestos contain little about those issues then we will know that the aim of parity for mental health will remain just that. Time will tell.