Like many mental health campaigners, I gave Nick Clegg the benefit of the doubt when he outlined the government’s strategy for mental health in February.
To save you reading the whole thing, here is the last sentence of the piece I posted then … ‘This has never been the sexiest or easiest issue in the world. If Nick Clegg is seeking to become the voice of the mentally ill within government, then he deserves support. And I hope we will soon hear him make the argument that anyone who thinks cuts to mental health services are an easy option – the Conservative default position – should realise there are significant knock-on costs to the budgets for welfare, housing and the criminal justice system.’
But if today’s front page lead interview with the outgoing President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists is anything to go by, mental health could be turning into just one more issue where Clegg talks a good game, but delivers less than promised.
Even accepting that the Royal College is a vested interest bound to want to fight for resources within pressured budgets, the message from Professor Dinesh Bhugra fits all too well with stories coming into mental health charities from all around the country.
There is always a danger, when NHS budgets are under real pressure, that mental health services become the Cinderella services once more. It looks like it is happening.
The Department of Health is quoted in The Guardian as saying ‘Mental Health is a cross-government priority. We published No Health Without Mental Health, our cross-government mental health outcomes strategy, to drive up standards in services and improve the nation’s mental health. The strategy makes clear that mental health services should be just as important as physical health services such as those for cancer and heart disease.’
That is the strategy. Professor Bhugra is talking about the impact, which appears not to resonate with the warm words.
Number 10 has done a good job setting up the Prime Minister’s press conference today to be about prison sentencing, and the U-turn on Ken Clarke’s plans. He will also be asked, I imagine, about pensions, Libya, Syria, and much else besides.
But I do hope someone asks him to spell out how he intends to meet the gap between the strategy set out by Nick Clegg, and the services Professor Bhugra says are being delivered.