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NHS funding won't solve the UK's mental health crisis

Ian Dodd
June 14, 2024

In a room filled with journalists, advisers and miscellaneous political stakeholders, Ed Davey unveiled the Liberal Democrats’ 2024 manifesto. It would be, according to Davey at least, the blueprint to fix the NHS – his bid, in short, to get the Lib Dems back at the forefront of British politics.

Interestingly, mental health played a big part in Davey’s plans – and, while I admire his drive to sort the UK’s wellbeing crisis, I can’t help but think he’s got the wrong end of the stick.

You see, mental health cannot be sorted by chucking money at the NHS, introducing frequent MOTs, or even placing mental health professionals across various organisations. £70 million per year to the NHS won’t even scratch the surface, especially if it’s stretched under more and more mental health assessments (Personnel Today).

The issues lie much, much deeper than that.

At their core, treatments for mental health in this country are faulty. You need to address and reform these services, not increase the number of mental health check-ins and practitioners. Really, you need a complete systematic overhaul.

In essence, you have to look at what will genuinely prioritise peoples’ recovery and, more specifically, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy services, or CBT for short. It is the treatment of choice for depression and anxiety, the centre of therapy services, and a mainstay of any NHS pamphlet in GP waiting rooms nationwide.

But it needs improving. The number of people dealing with mental health conditions – one billion people in 2019, according to the World Health Organisation – is staggering, and, to make matters worse, our welfare bill has skyrocketed. However, CBT is very much a cookie-cutter treatment – the duration of the services is often capped, and not tailored to those with more severe or complex conditions. It’s, to many people’s detriment, a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health.

People just aren’t getting the help they need and, as a result, the economy, our productivity, has taken a hit.

With all that in mind, the Lib Dems have clearly focussed on the wrong metric. It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at the NHS; if people aren’t recovering, you will just encounter the same issues. You have to monitor patients’ progress, not the number of sessions they attend.

With all that in mind, the Lib Dems have clearly focussed on the wrong metric. Quote

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can take Mel Stride’s route. Reducing mental health to the “normal anxieties of life” (The Telegraph) and taking the stance that ‘all work is good work’ is socially and, indeed, scientifically wrong. Attacking the problem is no way to solve it; you’ll just fan the flames of crisis and, as Sunak risks, isolate countless numbers of voters.

I like that Ed Davey has sought to address the UK’s mental health broader treatments and services. Among all the unfair and crass criticism as of late, especially Stride’s, it’s brilliant to see senior public figures valuing mental health – and treating it as a national priority. After all, you never know; it could help bring more yellow to the House of Commons come July.

But, as anyone who has suffered from mental health conditions and has experienced CBT will know, monetary policies won’t help. The issue is more profound than that. The Government needs to enlist the best psychology and psychiatry has to offer – and reform the NHS’ mental health services in the best way possible.

So many people suffering from mental health conditions do not get the help they need. They enter CBT and do not recover.

I want to change that. I want to help people build resilience against and recover from poor mental health – and I know some people, like Ed Davey, also want to do so.

So, here’s what I’ll say. Prioritise recovery, not the monetary policies or the number of practitioners. Stop skimping around the real issue.

Instead, improve and bolster the NHS’ mental health services; look for ways where they could be changed to help more people recover at a quicker rate. CBT will always have a place but it needs huge additional funding and resources and, more importantly, it cannot be the sole means of treatment and recovery. Patients have to be able to access other personalised treatment pathways – and these other types of therapy need to be introduced at scale. After all, if CBT doesn’t work, patients have to be able to access other options.

To get more people back into work and to ease the pressure on our welfare bill, the answer is simple: you have to reform our mental health services. Ed Davey has taken a step in the right direction, but – of course – the actual issue still needs to be addressed.

It’s on the next tenant of Number 10 to make this decision. It’s a no-brainer.

Ian Dodd 18

Ian Dodd is a leading activist for workplace reform and the CEO and founder of The Lazarus Practice.

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