Although we’re only three months into 2016, it’s already shaping up to be a positive year for preventative action against mental health. In 2015, an audit into the NHS by an independent group (The Mental Health Taskforce) was set up to improve services in what has been called a ‘long-neglected and chronically underfunded area of healthcare ’.i With the news that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem this year, it’s clear that the audit was much-needed.ii
Amongst other areas of concern, the taskforce exposed issues relating to underinvestment in mental health services, as well as poor NHS management of mental health problems. They identified that although mental health as a disability accounts for 23% of responsive NHS activity, funding in this area accounts for just 6% of research spendingiii. The audit recommended a number of different areas that require urgent attention, and the overriding consensus was that too many people have received no help for too long. According to the taskforce, this led to “hundreds of thousands of lives being put on hold or ruined, and thousands of tragic and unnecessary deaths”.iv
In terms of recommendations, the taskforce pushed for a review on reforms in the provision and management of mental health in the UK. They also stated that with further investment, more than 400 lives could be saved by 2020 through the preventative action of suicidesv. The taskforce estimated this would amount to an introduction of £10m worth of reforms to the current system.vi
And, following the final report of the audit, the NHS announced its commitment to the biggest transformation of mental health care in a generation. As a direct result of the taskforce calling a review, the NHS has pledged to help more than a million extra people, and invest in excess of £1bn annually by 2020/21vii.
This news means people facing mental health crises will now be able to receive community care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Currently, round the clock, community-based mental health care is only available across half of Englandviii. It also means new funding will be made available to support at least 30,000 more women each year who need to access specialist services. Currently, 1 in 5 mothers suffer mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirthix.
The pledge also tackles employment, with the NHS committing to play a greater role in supporting people to find or keep a job, and tackling inequalities and discrimination surrounding mental health. Alongside this, the audit included recommendations for strengthening the current workforce, and ensuring that recruitment into mental health positions continues to be attractive.
This commitment to improving mental health services is a significant step forward. According to Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, the charity who chaired the taskforce, ‘mental health must be a priority for everyone in England.’ With these changes, it appears this is becoming the case.
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