10th January 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans yesterday to “employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society, and at every stage of life” by building on the success on civil society groups and charities.

May explained she intends to “make mental illness an everyday concern for all of us and in every one of our institutions” – not in hospitals, but in classrooms, at work and in our communities. The government’s plans focus on children and young people, recognising that when left untreated in childhood, mental illness can become entrenched. She also referenced an increase in self-harm among young people and evidence that in 2014 just over 1 in 10 young people reported experiencing cyber-bullying.

The government plans to transform attitudes to mental illness by:

  1. Introducing a package of measures to transform the way we respond to mental illness in young people starting in our schools:
  • Offering mental health first aid training for teachers and staff.
  • Trials on strengthening links between schools and local NHS services.
  • A review of services for children and teenagers across the country which will be led by the Care Quality Commission with input from Ofsted, to be followed by a new Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health.
  • Ensuring that by 2021, no child will be sent away from their local area to be treated for a general mental health condition.
  1. Ensuring better support for mental well-being in the workplace:
  • Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind and Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, to carry out a review to improve support in the workplace.
  • Employers and organisations will be given additional training in supporting staff who need to take time off.
  • Review of employment discrimination laws for employees with mental health problems.
  • Ensure the right support to those with mental health problems who are out of work.
  1. Providing up to £15 million of extra funding available for community clinics, crisis cafes, and alternative places of safety to support a wider range of preventative services in the community.
  1. The reallocation of £67.7m, mostly from the existing NHS digitisation fund, for online services, such as allowing symptom checks before getting a face-to-face appointment.
  1. A review of the “health debt form”, under which patients are charged up to £300 by a GP for documentation to prove to debt collectors they have mental health issues.

In addition the government announced they would be publishing a cross-government Suicide Prevention Strategy, as well as ensuring that the mental illness gets the attention it deserves within the NHS by holding the NHS to account for the extra £1 billion invested in mental health last year.

In response to May’s announcement, Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt told BBC Radio 4  “we are accepting the reality that what we do at the moment is not good enough”.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind welcomed the Prime Minister’s plans, stating “mental health should be at the heart of government, society and communities – it’s been on the periphery for too long”. He said the proof will be in the difference it makes to the day-to-day experience of the one in four who will experience a mental health problem this year.

However, mental health charity Sane expressed concern that the plans needed to be matched by substantially increased funds to mental health trusts.  The Independent reported that the £15 million announced amounts to £23000 per parliamentary constituency. Research conducted by the Education Policy Institute Independent Commission on Children and Young People’s Mental Health in November found that a quarter of young people seeking mental health care are turned away by specialist services because of a lack of resources. Waiting times for treatment in many areas are also incredibly long. In addition the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said in September that it was “sceptical” about the Government’s attempt to improve mental health services without a significant amount of extra cash.

The Prime Minister’s announcements were part of a speech on the importance of a ‘shared society’. You can watch the part focusing on mental health here.

Blog by Ronagh Craddock, Trainee Solicitor