16 December 2019

By Andy Bell

The 2019 General Election is now over and a new Parliament is about to begin. The Government now faces some significant challenges in relation to mental health as it begins to implement its manifesto.

The Conservative manifesto included some important commitments for mental health services. They included the implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan, and with it £2.3 billion extra for mental health services by 2023/24. Delivering that investment will be crucial, and it will depend first and foremost on being able to build a workforce to make the necessary expansion possible. Achieving that quickly will be especially challenging and will require a focus not just on increasing access to training but also on supporting the wellbeing of existing staff and creating flexible workplaces and career opportunities to reduce sickness and vacancy rates.

The Conservative manifesto also pledged to reform the Mental Health Act. It stopped short of committing to fully implementing Sir Simon Wessely’s proposals, but it will be essential that the review’s recommendations are acted on in full to achieve the modernisation that we need to ensure everyone gets treated with dignity and respect when they need it most.

There are serious concerns about what Brexit will mean for the mental health workforce and for people living with mental health conditions

There are many more challenges for the Government that will have profound and long-lasting effects on the nation’s mental health. The impact of Brexit and the way it is carried out will have far-reaching consequences for mental health. There are serious concerns about what Brexit will mean for the mental health workforce and for people living with mental health conditions. They include what provision the Government will make for people travelling to the EU if they require health insurance. Urgent attention is needed to address these concerns and safeguard people’s mental health after the UK leaves the European Union.

While the Government’s manifesto made a clear commitment to funding the NHS, there were no such pledges for public health or social care. Yet for mental health, these two vital local government services are just as important as health care: and without them, more people will become more unwell and create spiralling need for more NHS funding. We now urgently need to see investment in the next Spending Review in public health, including for addictions services and suicide prevention, and a long-term settlement for social care that includes funding for services for people of working age. Without them, more people will have poorer health and ambitions to prevent illness and reduce inequalities will be stymied.

We now urgently need to see investment in the next Spending Review in public health, including for addictions services and suicide prevention, and a long-term settlement for social care

The Conservative manifesto included some pledges whose mental health implications will cause serious concern. The proposal to tackle poor behaviour in schools through greater use of exclusion powers would bring about serious and lasting damage to children’s mental health. Helping schools to manage behaviour through effective interventions and approaches would have a much better chance of working and protecting all children’s wellbeing. Likewise, the proposal to build more prison places will be counter-productive and potentially unsafe if it means more people are imprisoned and opportunities to divert are not taken. Assessing the mental health impact of such decisions could help to ensure that all new policies are developed with wellbeing in mind and risks mitigated.

The new Government has an opportunity to make better mental health a real priority and develop a strategy to achieve that. We know more than ever now that all government decisions affect our mental health and can either help or hinder wellbeing. Seeking to maximise good mental health and minimise risks, especially for the most marginalised and disadvantaged, will create a healthier and fairer society for all. We hope the new Government and the new Parliament will take that chance.