Care services minister Paul Burstow has vowed to put mental health care on a par with treating physical illness as he outlined plans for a new mental health strategy today.
Writing exclusively for Community Care, Burstow said the government intended a wholesale shift in emphasis that put mental health outcomes alongside physical health indicators in assessments of the quality of the NHS.
“The fact is we can no longer accept that curing someone of cancer, then leaving them to struggle with depression afterwards is a true mark of success,” he said.
“The NHS should deal with the full parameters of a patient’s recovery, including helping them return to work and get their life back after illness. That’s what the new outcomes framework should deliver.”
There are no new resources for the policy, though Burstow said ministers from different departments would work together in the months ahead to draw up a plan.
The new strategy will replace the previous government’s New Horizons strategy, which was launched last year, and which Burstow criticised as “big on principles but short on details”.
However, the new strategy will share its predecessor’s emphasis on promoting mental well-being through the intervention of services other than mental health services, such as Jobcentre Plus and housing.
Burstow emphasised the links between mental ill-health, poverty and unemployment had helped “fuel the massive rise in welfare spending over the past 10 years”. He highlighted the coalition’s backing for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme started by the previous government to give people with depression and anxiety better access to talking therapies.
Experts and mental health campaigners welcomed Burstow’s statement, though concerns were raised about a lack of emphasis on conditions such as schizophrenia and the potential impact of spending cuts.
Steve Shrubb, director of the Mental Health Network, which represents most mental health trusts, said Burstow had signalled a move away from targets to judging services on outcomes.
“I think that will say to clinicians that we want you to think about the difference your service makes for people rather than just treating the symptoms,” he said.
However, he was concerned that Burstow had focused on depression, and warned that people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder should not be forgotten.
This was echoed by Rethink chief executive Paul Jenkins, who welcomed Burstow’s ambition to put mental and physical health on a par, but warned: “We urge the government to make sure that it pays attention to the whole spectrum of mental illnesses, including severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Any reshaping of mental health strategy must address the needs of all service users, not just those on the cusp of depression.”
Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, said it was encouraging that the government intended to pursue a cross-departmental strategy to create services that promoted good mental health and prevented illness.
However, he said that it was “imperative” that mental health was protected from cuts in the years ahead and urged more action to tackle stigma, which was key to the strategy’s success.
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