The scale of the UK’s mental health problem is ever more apparent; it is estimated that in any given year one in four adults will experience a mental health issue. The estimated cost of mental ill health to the UK is said to be as high as £70bn a year, yet mental health services are chronically underfunded compared to those who provide physical health care. With the need to address this inequality and achieve true parity of esteem between physical and mental health becoming ever clearer, Freshwater’s healthcare team takes a look at what action is being promised by the main political parties as we head into the general election.
The Lib Dems have been campaigning on mental health for a long time, and their narrative around the issue is well established. On the first day of their election campaign, the Lib Dems announced their intention to increase funding for mental health services by £2bn – on top of the £1.25bn secured for mental health services in the final coalition budget in March – if elected. In particular, the Lib Dems placed emphasis on the provision of services for pregnant women and new mothers suffering from depression, with a £250m commitment to establishing eight new mother and baby units providing inpatient care, and 40 new community services for new mothers and pregnant women with depression. The Lib Dems – specifically via Norman Lamb - have also placed a significant emphasis on a commitment to parity of esteem and the equal treatment of physical and mental illnesses.
Mental health provision plays an equally important role in the Labour party’s NHS policy rhetoric. In particular, Labour is focusing on expanding access to talking therapies for people suffering from mental health problems, and meeting a fixed 28-day waiting time target to accessing those therapies. Integrating their health and education policies, Labour is also campaigning around early intervention, and the needs to reduce the burden on child and adolescent mental health in-patient services by seeking to increase the availability of talking therapies within schools. Labour has also called for all teachers to have training in child mental health so that they are better equipped to identify, support and refer children with mental health problems.
Labour has also committed to redressing the funding imbalance around child and adolescent mental health issues – currently 6% of the mental health budget is spent in this area - by gradually increasing the proportion of spend assigned to this area of healthcare.
For the Conservatives, strong policies on mental health provision continue to be conspicuous by their absence. When Liam Fox made mental health one of the central issues of his leadership campaign in 2005, one of his then colleagues in the Parliamentary party reportedly told him, “I was going to vote for you but not if you are going to talk about things like that.” This blight apparently continues, with a conspicuous absence of targeted mental health policies being issued by the Conservative Party.
Of course, during election season the pronouncements of all parties need to be taken with a pinch of salt. As mental health gains traction among the media and members of the general public alike, it remains to be seen which parties will deliver on their promises and whether this serious issue receives adequate attention in their forthcoming manifestos.
The Freshwater Healthcare team has over two decades of experience working with public sector health organisations to meet their communications needs. Click here to see some of our work in healthcare communications.