Mental health must also go to the top of the research agenda
Many things are unprecedented about the run-up to next year’s general election, but perhaps one of the least anticipated is the prominence mental health has acquired. There has been something of a slow-motion pile-up aspect to mental health care over the past few years, as reports of the devastating effects of cuts, including chronic bed shortages and patients put at risk have kept on coming. Despite ministerial overtures lately about “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health, ask people in need of counselling or of a bed on an acute ward if provision is meeting needs and the answer will be an unequivocal “No”.
When party leaders begin raising the issue at their annual conferences it’s a signal that something fundamental might be occurring. Last week Nick Clegg used his keynote conference speech to announce a £120m cash injection to improve mental health services and pledged, among other things, to reduce waiting times and ensure better integration between A&E and psychiatric services, an area of escalating concern. With the chief medical officer reporting last month that the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety shot up by 24% since 2009 and that 75% of people who have a mental illness receive no treatment at all, it is clear there are huge gaps in what is an overstretched system.
However, despite the fanfare of last week’s announcement, it’s not clear how the funds will be distributed, and £120m over two years is a mere drop in a gigantic ocean of NHS budgets.
Last week’s launch of a “manifesto” by a coalition of organisations calling for mental health research to also be a priority at the next election may not mean immediate money for a troubled service, but it is significant. One of the organisations spearheading the initiative is MQ, a new charity launched this year with £20m funding from the Wellcome Trust. It’s aim, according to chief executive Cynthia Joyce, is to become “the mental-health equivalent of Cancer Research UK” (referring to its strategy of getting government and public funding for research that contributed to breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment and prevention).
At present, just 5.5% of the UK’s health research budget goes to mental health. Bearing in mind that one in four people experience mental health difficulties, this is a paltry proportion. Although research takes a long time to bear fruit, the pay-off can be enormous. Systematic analysis of the way treatments are targeted could make mental health services more efficient and save money. Mobilising people to demand better mental health research would increase our knowledge of illnesses and the systems we have to treat them. It should always be a priority.
Credit: The Guardian Newspaper :-