A major new initiative to tackle one of the biggest health inequalities was launched today by Centre for Mental Health, Kaleidoscope Health and Care and Rethink Mental Illness in collaboration with more than 20 professional organisations, charities and health service bodies across the country.

Equally Well UK is a new collaborative to bring together organisations with a part to play in reducing the 15-20 year life expectancy gap facing people with a severe mental illness in Britain today. Based on a similar scheme running in New Zealand, Equally Well UK brings together organisations involved in mental health and physical health in a common effort to reduce the health gap.

Equally Well UK is already supported by major national bodies including NHS England, Health Education England, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Public Health England, Mind, the National Survivor and User Network and NHS Improvement.

Any organisation that supports the physical health of people with a mental illness can become a member of Equally Well UK. That includes national and local health service providers and commissioners, charities, professional bodies, training and education providers and many more.

Organisations joining Equally Well UK will be asked to make a pledge for how they will do their part to reduce the health gap. And in September, members will come together to produce a Charter for Equal Health to demonstrate their commitment to bringing about lasting change.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “People with a severe mental illness face a dramatically reduced life expectancy, mostly because of poor physical health. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health committed the NHS to take action to tackle this shocking inequality. Equally Well UK will help to make that happen by creating concerted action across boundaries, sharing stories of what works and building a nationwide movement for change.”

Dr Alan Cohen, representing the Royal College of GPs, said: “Too many people with a severe mental illness are dying from avoidable physical conditions that for too long have not been managed appropriately throughout the health service. It's really important for anyone delivering care to patients with mental health conditions to consider their physical health as well - and Equally Well gives us a new way of coming together to help us all achieve that, in partnership with those living with a mental illness.”

Too many people with a severe mental illness are dying from avoidable physical conditions that for too long have not been managed appropriately throughout the health service

Philippa Lowe is the Chair of the charity Rethink Mental Illness and has a son with schizophrenia. She says: “I remember being very concerned about my son’s weight gain when he started his anti-psychotic medication. When I asked our then psychiatrist about it he said: 'Let's get the psychosis under control, then we'll think about his weight'. I now know that this wasn’t the right approach at all. Physical health should be monitored and encouraged alongside mental health from the word go, and so I’m pleased to see the Equally Well UK project making this a priority. The best medication for my son’s mental health, which has changed his life so positively, has been the worst for his weight. He now weighs twice what he should and the consequences for his health and life expectancy are scary to contemplate.”

Facts and figures

  • The life expectancy of a person living with psychosis in the UK is 15-20 years shorter than average: most of this ‘gap’ is caused by poor physical health
  • People with psychosis are two to three times more likely to have diabetes than average
  • People with psychosis are two to three times more likely to have high blood pressure, heart attacks and/or strokes - cardiovascular disease.
  • Smoking rates among people with psychosis are between 50 and 80% compared with 16% of the general population
  • People with psychosis are more likely to die from cancer

Founding members

  • 2gether NHS Foundation Trust
  • Action on Smoking and Health
  • Association of Mental Health Providers
  • Care Quality Commission
  • Centre for Mental Health
  • Health Education England
  • Kaleidoscope Health and Care
  • Mental Health Nurses Association
  • Mind
  • National Elf Service
  • National Survivor and User Network
  • NHS England
  • NHS Improvement
  • Public Health England
  • Rethink Mental Illness
  • The Richmond Group of Charities
  • Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Royal College of Nursing
  • Royal College of Physicians
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Royal Pharmaceutical Society
  • Royal College of Pathologists
  • Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • West London Mental Health NHS Trust

Follow Equally Well UK on Twitter @EquallyWellUK