January saw Theresa May launch her vision of a “shared society” with a focus on mental health and reducing the stigma attached to it. The Prime Minister pledged new initiatives for schools and employers to provide mental health support, as well as plans for new alternatives to hospital treatment, however barely any extra funding was promised to improve already struggling mental health services, only a paltry £23,000 per parliamentary constituency, dedicated to creating as yet unspecified “places of safety.”
Now it has emerged the number of unexpected patient deaths reported by mental health trusts in England has risen by 50 per cent in three years. BBC programme Panorama has discovered there were 3,160 deaths by suicide, neglect and misadventure reported by trusts in 2015-16, up from 2,067 in 2012-13, following a a Freedom of Information request which gleaned data from half of the Trusts in Britain.
Mental health charities have called upon the government to honour it’s pledge and improve already depleted services, instead May has commissioned another review of mental health services impact on supporting those in work, lead by former HBOS chairman Lord Dennis Stevenson, a man the Banking Standards Committee described as championing a “model of self delusion with the triumph of process over purpose” — sounds like the ideal man to waste a chunk of public money. Perhaps he will use the extensive report by the NHS England Mental Health Taskforce, who addressed these issues when their report was released in February 2016.
Reports from independent think-tank the Health Foundation paint a dismal picture of both services and the mental health of the nation as being in progressive decline. They report funding to mental health trusts has fallen despite a rise in national health spending. More worryingly, as the Department of Health and the BBC argue over the suicide rates of patients in mental health services, the real figure of people who committed suicide in Britain during that time is three times that headline number, with the Office of National Statistics recording 6,188 suicides in 2013.
The picture of mental health need and service provision in Britain is far from clear as different parties engage in their war of statistical analysis whilst the NHS workforce itself suffers from the negative psychological impact of an out-of-control capitalist system and patients wait for services. The common sense approach was clearly stated by the Health Foundation at the time of the NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health [PDF].
Mental health commitments are lost in the noise of a whole system financial crisis. Many of the improvements in mental health services rely on already overstretched services from GPs to A&E, as well as local areas putting the promised money into mental health. This is nothing to what happens when NHS Trusts’ acute services are financially bereft — services such as Children and Adolescent Mental Health of Perinatal Services are essentially robbed to keep acute services such as A&E open.
There isn’t the workforce to deliver the commitments. Staff are needed now, not in several years. The NHS is also in the grip of a morale crisis with low staff engagement and staff themselves experiencing mental health problems. People need to be engaged in change for it to be successful.
The government continues to implement measures seemingly aimed at reducing the number of people going into training as nurses and doctors. Ten years ago someone training to be a nurse in Britain was given a training allowance for the three-year duration of their training and education, not enough to live on (but they need to get used to that anyway). The current training for nurses requires people to pay themselves to train as a nurse. When we could not attract the requisite numbers of nurses into the profession before how are we possibly going to do it now?
Political parties will always use the care and treatment of our physical and mental healthcare as a pawn in their chess games, our taxes will always find ventures such as to support Saudi Arabia bombing Yemen, to pay undercover police officers to infiltrate protest groups the name of national security or to pass expensive bills to bring in laws they have no interest in enforcing such as the ban on fox hunting. It is important that they are held to account for their questionable financing and for the shoddy services we receive.
As for reducing the stigma attached to mental illness, perhaps not capping people housing benefits, not denying them welfare because an algorithm has decided they are fit for work, or providing adequate services so that people can recover may help people live with the stigma a little more than denying them access.
For further information about resources t help you cope with mental health problems go to https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk.