“Imagine breaking your leg, only to be told that your nearest care facility was half way across the country, with a long waiting list and no guarantees about when you’ll actually get the help you need. Or developing diabetes but being too scared to tell your family, friends and your boss about what’s happening, because you’re worried about how they might react and possibly losing your job.
“If any of these things happened to someone with a serious physical health condition in our country, there would quite rightly be outrage. It would be on the front page of every national newspaper and dominate Prime Minister’s Questions every week. People would be out on the streets calling for reform. But this is exactly the kind of second-class treatment that people with mental health issues have had to endure for decades.”
Those are the words of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
And read what Liberal Democrat minister Norman Lamb said. “Funding for mental health has increased since last year but, for too long, mental health has lost out in local spending in many areas.”
He said the payment system in the NHS “disadvantaged mental health”.
“That’s why we are taking action, including introducing new standards for mental health services that local areas will have to meet, just as there are for physical health services – this is backed by £80m investment. This week we’ve also announced a £1.25 billion funding boost for children and young people’s mental health.”
This would be great but for some inconvenient facts. Mental health budgets have fallen by 8.25% in real terms since this government came to power. That’s a cut of about £600 million. At the same time, reports the BBC, “referrals to community mental health teams, which help people avoid being admitted to hospital, have risen nearly 20%.”
So when Lamb says, “For too long, mental health has lost out in local spending in many areas”, he forgets to add that he happened to be a minister when it lost out. It was his government, admittedly a Tory government in which some Lib Dems have jobs, that made the cuts. So don’t give me all this stuff about “taking action”. Since you weren’t elected in 2010, the only action you have taken is to decimate mental health care.
Lamb himself has direct experience of mental illness because was diagnosed with severe OCD 12 years ago, causing a very painful time for his family as his son fought alcohol and drug problems. He says: “Our experience has made me even more determined to bring mental health out of the shadows and to fight for better care for all of the families affected.” Believe me, he has my total sympathy. His son has been incredibly brave to come out with his illness and Lamb himself has done a significant public service by showing that mental illness is not confined to any social group. But there is a but. Lamb has lived with his son’s terrible mental health issues for 12 years but he serves as a minister in a government that has slashed spending on mental health. When I hear Lib Dems saying what Lamb has said, much as I agree with him, I always say, “Look at his Commons voting record.” He’s not some Lib Dem rebel, any more than Vince Cable. He’s voted for each and every cut instituted by his Tory paymasters. I don’t think he is shedding crocodile tears when he talks about mental health, given his own life experience, but he’s obviously able to compartmentalise his political views better than I am.
Lamb may not play politics with mental health, but it doesn’t stop Clegg doing exactly that.
Clegg says: “Since 2011, we’ve invested £400 million to increase access to talking therapies across England.
We’re providing an extra £120 million to help implement the maximum waiting times for mental health from this year, alongside an additional £150 million over 5 years to improve services for children and young people suffering from eating disorders.
“This includes waiting time and access standards for these conditions by April 2016.
“And, overall, the money going into mental health has increased by £302 million in 2014 to 2015.”
That’s politics at work for you. He gives a figure from 2011 which is an 8.25% cut in real terms (at no point does he attempt to pretend it isn’t) and then goes on to say that after nearly five years in government they’re going to increase spending, although he forgets to add that they’ve been cutting throughout that period.
I’m waiting for therapy myself but the NHS waiting list is, effectively, closed because so many people are on it. Therefore, the NHS is forced to use ‘private providers’, companies who sell their services in order to make money and I go on their waiting list too.
Clegg’s fine words are not words I recognise from the world of work: “Imagine being too scared to tell your family, friends and your boss about what’s happening, because you’re worried about how they might react and possibly losing your job.” Well, Nick: you’re the Deputy Prime Minister of this Tory government and your friends in high places are terrorising employees, especially your own in the public sector, by their ruthless and vicious attacks on those who suffer from mental illness. Can you imagine, when you have occasionally taken your snout out of the ministerial trough, what it feels like a clinical depressive who has been given an official warning about her/his sick leave, threatening that person with dismissal if they suffer from depression again? Of course you don’t. They didn’t teach you about real people at Westminster School, do they?
You refer to the “second-class treatment that people with mental health issues have had to endure for years.” Well, once again, I agree with Nick. The trouble is that people are suffering on your watch and until a General Election appeared, you didn’t give a shit.