Mental health care overhaul pledged by PM

Theresa May is pledging to help schools and companies in England deal with the “hidden injustice” of mental illness.

In a speech, the prime minister will announce extra training for teachers, more online self-checking for those with concerns and a review of services for children and teenagers.

Mental health experts said more funding was needed to improve services.

Mrs May’s speech comes as she outlines her plans to use the state to create a “shared society”.

She will promise to “transform” attitudes to mental health problems.

  • Young women ‘highest mental health risk’
  • One in four adults ‘has mental illness’
  • Politics and jobs ‘swell youth anxiety’

The government says that, at any time, one in four people has a mental disorder, with an annual cost of £105bn, and that young people are affected disproportionately.

In the speech, to the Charity Commission, Mrs May will announce several measures:

  • Every secondary school to be offered mental health first aid training
  • Trials on strengthening links between schools and NHS specialist staff, including a review of children and adolescent services across the country, led by the Care Quality Commission
  • Appointing mental health campaigner Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind, to carry out a review on improving support in the workplace
  • Employers and organisations will be given additional training in supporting staff who need to take time off
  • More focus on community care, with an extra £15m towards this, and less emphasis on patients visiting GPs and A&E
  • Expanding online services to allow symptom checks before getting a face-to-face appointment
  • A review of the “health debt form”, under which patients are charged up to £300 by a GP for documentation to prove they have mental health issues

Mrs May will say in her speech that mental health has been “dangerously disregarded” as secondary to physical health and changing that will go “right to the heart of our humanity”.

Mind chief executive Mr Farmer said it was “important to see the prime minister talking about mental health”.

He added: “The proof will be in the difference it makes to the day-to-day experience of the one in four who will experience a mental health problem this year. Mental health is everyone’s business and we need to see sustained leadership to make sure services and support improve”.

“Having been neglected for decades, we need to see it made a priority for decades to come to make sure everyone with… problems can live the life they want to lead.”

‘Doors were closed’

Dr Sangeeta Mahajan, whose 20-year-old son Sargaar killed himself after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, wants more awareness to be raised around mental health conditions and better access for patients.

“They don’t discharge patients with adequate information,” she said. “The doors were closed to us.

“We were told you either go to A&E or your GP and that is the only way you can come back to us. We had no direct access back to the specialist services. That is wrong.”

Young woman looking at cameraImage copyrightSPL

Philip Timms, a consultant psychiatrist in London, said there was a long way to go to improve mental health standards.

“Mental health is still very underfunded compared to other areas of medicine,” he told the BBC. “It generates probably 20-25% of the total disease burden, and yet the funding is 10-12% in this country.”

Michael Buchanan, the BBC’s social affairs correspondent, told the Today programme there was cash available, but it was not being being invested in mental health services by NHS England and local commissioning groups.

“There certainly there has been money coming from ministers, [with] £1bn pledged in this parliament towards adult psychiatric services and £1.4bn towards children’s mental health services,

“The challenge for the prime minister is to ensure the money that is leaving actually makes a difference on the frontline.”

But Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, said: “On mental health particularly, there is really a mismatch for many of her critics between what she will say today and funding on the ground.

“With the bigger problems going on with the NHS, I think this will be a difficult message for [her] to land.”

‘Historic opportunity’

The speech follows Mrs May’s announcement at the weekend that she wishes to create a “shared society”, with the state taking a greater role in ending “unfairness”.

She called the approach to mental health “a historic opportunity to right a wrong” and a chance for people’ to change their view.

Mrs May’s emphasis on a “shared society” marks a contrast with her predecessor David Cameron’s “Big Society” agenda, which relied on voluntary organisations rather than state intervention.

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