Preventing and treating mental ill health must be a top government priority, Centre for Mental Health has said today, in response to a speech made by health and social care secretary Steve Barclay MP.
Our statement follows reports that the health and social care secretary was going to use the speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank to announce that mental health, cancer and maternity services would be ‘deprioritised’ so that NHS England could focus on cutting general waiting times.
Campaigners including the Centre reacted with alarm to this apparent change in focus – in the event, the minister used the speech to say that mental health remained a priority.
Chief executive Dr Sarah Hughes said: “We welcome Steve Barclay’s recognition that the pandemic has caused an increase in demand for mental health services. Indeed, our research indicates that 10 million people will need mental health support as a result of the pandemic. This demand, combined with rising costs and inflation, means mental health must be a priority going into the winter.
“Whilst it is true that the government has invested more in mental health services, very high and rising inflation, which is even higher in health care, is effectively cancelling out increases as the NHS pays much more for energy, staffing and supplies. Inflation is also causing deeper and widespread poverty which, in turn, worsens mental health, placing more strain on people, communities and health services.
“I am relieved that the secretary of state has reiterated the Government’s commitment to mental health services which are needed more than ever as demand rises in response to people’s worsening living conditions. As welcome as continued focus on mental health services is, the truth is we cannot simply treat our way out of this mental health crisis.
“Government needs to do much more to alleviate the cost of living emergency that is driving poor mental health. Above inflation rises in the minimum wage and out of work benefits are needed, along with reforms to the way affordable housing, energy and childcare are provided. In the meantime mental health services need the resources necessary to support people and manage inflationary pressure.”