It is good to know that our politicians have such a grip on reality. David Cameron writes to his local council leader to complain at the huge cuts they are making, not realising that they were caused, entirely, by the government which he leads. Today, we learn in a report by the Kings Fund that “disappearing” mental health services are putting lives at risk whilst at the same time Care Minister Alistair Burt says: “We have made great strides in the way that we think about and treat mental health in this country.” Can anyone spot the slight contradiction here?
I am going to come straight to the point here. Suicide is the leading cause of death of British men under 50 years of age. Over a quarter (26%) of men who die between the ages of 20 and 34 take their own lives, and 13% of deaths among men aged 35 to 49 are self-inflicted. I will add at this point that the figures for women are grim too, albeit less grim on a general statistical level than the figures for men but the simple fact is that this is a major mental health issue.
Mr Burt crows about the “great strides” that are being made but there is a big difference between a politician’s words and the reality on the ground. He somehow omits to mention that since 2010, when his government came to power, there has been an 8% cut on mental health spending in real terms. And this during a time when the demand for mental health services has dramatically increased.
Allow me to quote Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, which represents providers of mental health and learning disability services in England:
“(There was a) yawning gap between the rhetoric and reality when it comes to mental health policy in England.
“The problem is mental health policy in England has become a spectator sport with everybody from the prime minister to NHS England standing on the sidelines talking about what should happen, whilst local services actually aren’t seeing any new funding and in fact are being cut.
“And that together with cuts to social care is resulting in the most dreadful stories and experiences for people who are very vulnerable and in need of services.”
And Marjorie Wallace of the charity Sane:
“A lot of mental health services are disappearing and we really believe that people’s lives are being put at risk unnecessarily.”
We are talking about real people here, but politicians regard Mental Health services as the Cinderella service, the poor relation of the NHS. And, as concerning as anything in this sorry debate, one fifth of children referred to mental health services are refused treatment. This is not me making things up: these are statistics obtained by the NSPCC as a result of a proper study. Diss the NSPCC and you are not my friend.
I find the aspect about children the most disturbing of all. We know that by ignoring children’s mental health problems they are merely stored up for later life. I know this, from personal experience, and from the experience and indeed tragedies of friends I know and have known. I have known people who died because their demons were never confronted, that their illnesses were never treated, that they were left alone to suffer and in some cases die. But Alistair Burt talks of “great strides”, as if everything is hunky dory, that the government is getting to grips with things, as if they haven’t slashed mental health services.
The government has promised that an extra £1.25 billion has been promised for young people and children’s mental health service will be spent during the current parliament, which is to say by 2020, with more being spent on adult services too. I will give that qualified support because I don’t know how it fits in with the government’s agenda of cutting public services to the bone between now and 2020. The prime minister doesn’t seem to realise the effect of central government – his government – cuts on council services so why should we have any faith in either him or his ministers when they say they will spend more? Will they be giving with one hand and taking with the other? Because that is what governments do and in George Osborne we have the master tactician who does or says nothing unless there is some form of political aspect to it.
One in four people suffer from mental health, the most common forms being depression and anxiety. You would have thought that with a government that seems to care only about the bottom line, the sheer cost to society and business, they might even see a dividend for the country for investing in mental health but Mr Burt’s empty “great strides” rhetoric suggests suggests that either they haven’t noticed or they just don’t care.