Irrespective of who wins on 8 June, Britain’s next Prime Minister will be confronted with one of the foremost public health issues in a generation, says Danny Bowman.
It’s estimated mental health will affect a quarter of the UK’s population at some point during their lives. Despite this, healthcare provision for affective disorders is woefully lacking. As Theresa May herself has highlighted, mental illness has been a ‘hidden injustice’ in our country for decades, shrouded in stigma and disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health. Rightly, she’s noted that it is an issue that strikes at the very core of the values and beliefs of our society.
But it is an issue with a quantitative impact on our country too. Over the past three years the number of unexpected patient deaths reported by mental health trust in England has risen by half. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that mental illness costs the UK around 4.5 per cent of GDP in lost working days, reduced productivity and higher benefits spending.
It’s clear that to tackle mental illness in the UK a radical overhaul is needed.
First, Theresa May needs to look at her approach to mental health within the NHS, which is regularly the subject of cuts to frontline services, which culminates in longer waiting times. New analysis from the Health Foundation suggests mental illness trust budgets have been cut by £150 million, even though the need for mental health provision is rising.
Secondly, the Government needs to ensure the money allocated for the treatment of mental illness is delivered. Data from Young Minds showed that half of all Clinical Commissioning Groups were using money specifically for mental health to fill gaps in other areas.
Theresa May should ring fence all money assigned to mental health, so Clinical Commissioning Groups can’t use it for other means. On the issue of funding mental health provision the Westminster based think tank Parliament Street sets out in a forthcoming policy paper, the Government should setup an invest to save model that would see short term investment leading to long term savings. If you invest in frontline mental health services now you will see fewer people needing further treatment in the future, thus saving money for the taxpayer.
There are other public services feeling the pain due to lack of investment in mental health care; research conducted by Parliament Street in February showed the police were dealing with more than 300,000 incidents where mental health was a factor, which uses up precious resources and costing the taxpayer more money.
The second hurdle Britain’s prospective Prime Minister needs to address is the reduction in life chances and life expectancy for people suffering from mental illness. An alarming number of people suffering from mental illness end up out of education, on welfare or in prison. Recent research by the OECD found that up to 370,000 people move onto disability benefit every year with the leading cause being mental ill-health, costing the economy a substantial amount of money. Theresa May must address the soring number of inmates in in our country’s prisons suffering from mental health problems and the prevalence of suicide attempts with figures from the prison reform trust showing that 46 per cent of female prisoners in UK prisons have tried to take their own life at some time in their lives compared to 21 per cent for male prisoners. It is even more shocking that figures from the Ministry of Justice showed there had been 119 self-inflicted deaths in prisons in England and Wales just in 2016 alone. According to Young Minds 95 per cent of young offenders have a diagnosable mental health problem which illustrates how untreated mental illness can lead to a reduction in life chances.
These points emphasise the key areas the if elected Theresa May needs to target. Inevitably, it often goes back to the argument for investing in frontline mental health services with an ‘invest to save model’. If people were to be fast tracked for treatment for their mental health problem they would be less likely to drop out of education, less likely to end up on welfare, less likely to end up in prison and less likely to take their own life which would save large amounts of money for the taxpayer and save lives too.
The final issue, and arguably the most important issue Mrs May will have to address is the considerable cost mental illness imposes on the economy. The Centre for Mental Health estimate the annual economic and social cost of mental illness at £105 billion annually. Again, this shows how early investment can have a significant impact on cost reductions further down the line.
To show her commitment to tackling mental illness and to help drive through the required change, Theresa May should appoint a dedicated position of Minister for Mental Health within her new administration.
Mental illness affects every part of our society and it is of paramount importance that in the upcoming general election and all political parties promote a modernised, forward looking ‘21st century approach to mental health’ but if the polls are right then special emphasis must be put on Theresa May outlining her plan for mental health as soon as possible.