NHS EnglandNHS England is establishing a taskforce to develop a new 5-year national strategy for mental health, for people of all ages across England.

The taskforce will explore the variation in the availability of mental health services across England, look at the outcomes for people who use services, and identify key priorities for improvement. It will also consider ways of promoting positive mental health and wellbeing, ways of improving the physical health of people with mental health problems, and whether money and time are being spent on the right things. It will report later this year.

Service users and experts by experience, alongside families and carers will be involved throughout in the shaping strategy, alongside other stakeholders.

The Taskforce will be chaired by Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, and comprise health and community leaders and experts in the mental health field including specialist doctors, charities, service users and their families. 

The vice-chair will be Jacqui Dyer, who has a background in adult mental health commissioning as well as community and family social work. A mental health service user and carer for the past two and a half decades, Dyer is also an elected local councillor and previously co-chaired the Lambeth Black Health & Wellbeing Commission.

Members of the taskforce will also include: Sarah Brennan from YoungMinds, Mark Winstanley from Rethink Mental Illness, Tom Wright of Age UK, Lord Victor Adebowale, Sarah Yiannoullou of NSUN, and senior representatives from the British Psychological Society, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network, local government, the Royal College Of GPs.

Working alongside Public Health England, Health Education England, NHS Trust Development Authority, Monitor, the Care Quality Commission and expert partners, they will build on the progress made so far including the new access and waiting times targets announced last autumn, as well as work done by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce.

New money for NHS mental health services has been committed from 2015/15 for the next 5 years:

Local NHS clinical commissioning groups have been asked to ensure real terms increases in their investment in mental health services next year

£150 million will be invested in improving eating disorders service for children and young people over the next 5 years

£120 million was committed to mental health services and has been split a variety of ways including spend on new waiting times and access standards for early intervention psychosis, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies and mental health liaison in acute hospitals

The recent Budget announced an additional £250 million per year for the next 5 years:  £15 million will go to improve perinatal mental health services, and £235 million to improve access for children and young people to mental health services.

The new taskforce will support the use of this money to be sure it starts to have a positive impact on people’s lives quickly.

Strive for change

“Our taskforce will aim to drive change in the delivery of services so they are first-rate for all ages,” said Farmer. “Stigma around mental health is starting to reduce as professionals and the public begin to realise that we must treat mental health with the same level of respect and importance as physical health. This is a chance to turn the growing awareness of mental health into action and effective delivery across England so that people can get the right help at the right time, investing in preventing problems becoming crises.”

NHS England CEO, Simon Stevens, added: “The tide of public opinion is shifting in favour of mental health and wellbeing. People are rightly no longer willing to put up with mental health as the poor relation to the rest of the health service. That’s a hugely powerful impetus for improvement, creating the opportunity for this Taskforce to chart a shared direction for us all over the next five years.”

Dr Geraldine Strathdee, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, said: “This is a big moment for mental health. We can tackle major challenges which include maximizing personalized, least restrictive home care, improving crisis care, reducing the 20 years premature mortality and improving transition from children’s to adult services.”

Turning intention into action

Rethink Mental Illness CEO, Mark Winstanley, said: “We hope this Taskforce can lead the way in radically improving the support that people receive. Our priority is to ensure that the views and experiences of people affected by mental illness play a key role in shaping this national five-year plan for mental health. 

“We know which services are most effective in helping people, as well as being most cost-effective, and we will work hard to try and ensure that they are put in place across the NHS. 

“The challenge and opportunity is clear – if we take steps to improve our nations’ mental health now, we have the chance to improve the lives of millions of people.”

Jenny Edwards CBE, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, welcomed the taskforce but added that good intentions must be turned into action on the ground. “This initiative needs to mobilise the expertise of wider stakeholders and people with lived experience of mental health problems to develop a framework for action and accountability. This should result in much needed improvements to services, but also reduce demand for those services in the first place through effective prevention. 

“Stakeholders, most critically people with lived experience of mental health problems, will expect to hold it to account for delivering a true paradigm shift in this rare opportunity to help reframe health services. 

“Equality must also be a central consideration in the Taskforce’s work so that the needs and perspectives of all social and demographic groups, especially those with high prevalence of mental health problems, are taken into account in the changes that result, with rapid and measurable progress towards narrowing mental health inequalities and a mental health equity assessment of policies and proposals.”