Government and NHS must take sustained action to fulfil the promise of ‘parity’ for mental health in England

20 July 2023

The Government must act now to put in place access and waiting time standards for mental health services for the NHS to get closer to achieving ‘parity’ between mental and physical health care, Centre for Mental Health chief executive Andy Bell said today.

Welcoming the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report on progress in improving NHS mental health services, Andy Bell said: “The Committee has rightly acknowledged the hard work the NHS in England has done to expand mental health services since the Long Term Plan was published in 2019. But it is also clear that this is work in progress, with a lot more to do to make ‘parity’ more than a slogan.

“While NHS mental health services are growing and seeing more people, referrals are rising and in many places access is limited by long waiting lists and high thresholds for support. Government inaction on the prevention of mental ill health, and austerity in public health, education, and social care services, is increasing demand for NHS mental health services, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis. This is unsustainable.

“We endorse the Public Accounts Committee’s call on the Government to implement new access and waiting time standards for mental health services without delay. Without them, people will continue to wait for too long for essential services, without the same accountability as we have for elective surgery. We welcome the Committee’s call for a detailed plan for expanding the mental health services workforce and better data about these services and how well they are meeting people’s needs.

“We also welcome the Committee’s recommendation that NHS England reviews how effectively integrated care boards and partnerships are prioritising mental health in their areas. The introduction of integrated care systems has the potential to improve the public’s mental health and make services more responsive. But they must be accountable for closing gaps in provision and addressing the stark inequalities in mental health and mental health care that exist in every area of the country.

“The Committee’s call for action to prevent mental ill health and boost public mental health services is especially important. The abandonment of the proposed ten-year cross-government mental health plan means we lack leadership nationally to promote better mental health for all, or a long-term approach to addressing the causes of distress. Year after year of cuts to the Public Health Grant have left local councils without the resources they need to protect the public’s mental health. Yet our recent report, Made in communities, shows how much they could do with sustained investment. And nationally, a ‘mental health in all policies’ approach could revolutionise the way government protects people’s mental health, with shared action and accountability from education and justice to social security and climate resilience.”

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