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SANE's mental health priorities for the new prime minister
Added: 24th Jul 2019

Boris Johnson is going to have a lot on his desk on his first day in office and we welcome him indicating the importance of improving mental health as a priority. Given the chronic state services are in, at SANE we think there are a number of urgent priorities that require his attention.

People’s mental health can be supported through intelligent policy and intervention. But a lack of funding, staffing gaps and long waiting times for treatment are just some major areas of concern.

One of the biggest challenges facing services is the relentless closure of psychiatric beds. We have lost almost 49,000 overnight NHS mental health beds since 1987/88, 20,000 of these since 2000.

Units continue to be closed at a disturbing rate, often leaving patients who need more intensive help with nowhere to go. We find ever more people uprooted from family and community in order to access potentially lifesaving treatment out-of-area. This can undermine their prospects for recovery and puts intolerable pressure on them and their families.

Until we see proposals to restore local beds for those in crisis or with severe and relapsing mental illness, people will continue to be discharged early or refused admission, and avoidable tragedies and loss of life will continue.

We are also very concerned about the lack of action to tackle severe and relapsing psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Despite the explosion in mental health awareness and agendas for improving wellbeing, the lives of those affected by severe mental illness often remain bleak. A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health published in October said: “Those who are the sickest often wait the longest to get help”.

Our Still Forgotten report, based on a survey of 423 people affected by schizophrenia or psychosis, as well as their families and carers, found the majority were not informed about local services and did not feel involved in decisions affecting their everyday life. One in nine people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or experience of an episode of psychosis received no support service following their diagnosis.

One respondent to our survey said:“I’m fed up having to ring and chase, I am not being supported in any way. I have not been offered any additional help, talking therapies or groups. If it wasn’t for my family I would have no support at all.”

Children’s mental health is a tragic missed opportunity given the proven effectiveness of early intervention. Official figuresshow that one in eight five to 19-year-olds had a mental disorder in 2017, up from around one in 10 in 2004, the last time such data was collected.

It was promised in theNHS long-term plan that children and young people’s services would get a funding growth faster than the NHS budget, and the general mental health budget over the next five years. However, we need to ensure money is ring-fenced so it reaches the frontline. It’s often the case that money committed to mental health is dissipated in meeting the overall need.

Despite the increasing number of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services, support in many areas remains threadbare. This makes no sense as three-quarters of mental illness starts precisely in this age group, and left untreated can often lead to lifelong mental health problems.

Without prompt treatment problems that could be resolved can spiral, increasing the risk of long-term mental ill-health and making a mockery of the government’s pledge to ensure parity of esteem between physical and mental health problems.

About 20,000 posts in specialist mental health services in England are vacant. This equates to around 1 in 11 posts being vacant, and includes 1,400 consultants and 7,600 nurses.

The attrition of the mental health workforce in recent years has left a depleted and often demoralised staff, many doing their best to cope in difficult circumstances.

We hope new money will be earmarked to fund new posts, and that in three years’ time people in need of psychiatric help will at last start to receive consistent, high quality care.

We have been warning for years of increasing numbers of people who harm themselves, as well as the worsening extent of the injuries that they inflict.

At SANE, we hear daily of harrowing stories of people who have become addicted to self-harming as a release from mental pain. It is deeply concerning that 55 per cent of all callers to our helpline report that they have self-harmed or are considering it, compared to 8 per cent just 20 years ago.

Without measures to tackle these areas of major concern, patients will continue to find themselves at the time of greatest need with no place to go to and no one to turn to.

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