New mental health agency signals an era of co-operation on policy

England’s mental health sector can look forward to a new era of co-operation with government with the establishment next week of the National Mental Health Development Unit.

That was the promise from Dr Ian McPherson, director of the new Department of Health agency, which will replace the National Institute for Mental Health in England (Nimhe).

The unit will have a a £7.7m budget in 2009-10, and will develop and publicise good practice for commissioners and frontline workers, with specific objectives including widening access to talking therapies and promoting mental health for everyone.

McPherson also said that, unlike Nimhe, the new agency would act as a link between ministers and the sector to advise on future mental health policy, marking the end of a “top-down” approach from central government.

Co-produced policy

He told Community Care that policy would now be “co-produced” with organisations such as the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS trusts across England. The new unit will help formulate the DH’s new mental health strategy, which will replace the 10-year national service framework, expiring this year.

McPherson, formerly head of Nihme, said the institute’s greatest achievements were giving mental health a national profile, increasing service user involvement, and supporting integration between health and social care.

Targets were necessary

The DH’s earlier emphasis on improving services using prescriptive targets had been necessary, according to McPherson.

But he added: “Now there is more of a role to play for local authorities, NHS trusts, strategic health authorities and regional government offices as we move towards the well-being agenda.

“They will be pushing to say ‘this is what we need locally’, rather than waiting for the department to say ‘this is what we think you need’.”

Other priorities for the NMHDU include meeting the mental health needs of women, young adults, black people and those form and ethnic minorities, and asylum seekers.

Unit’s structure

A small central team will be based in central London, without the eight regional branches previously operated by Nimhe. The latter’s regional staff have been transferred to strategic health authorities and regional government offices.

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