Labour and Lib Dems take to the hustings to champion mental health but ‘parity of esteem’ remains an elusive goal in practice

It’s not often that Cinderella gets to go to the ball twice in one day.

So let’s put aside the week’s health eye catchers, even though they include David Cameron’s much criticised bid to get a UN humanitarian job for fallen Andrew Lansley and the Daily Mail’s rash attempt to have Circle’s implosion at Hinchingbrooke investigated as a leftie “stitch up”.

Does Circle want its contract back, do you suppose?

‘Parity of esteem for mental health problems remains an elusive goal in practice’

There was also Nigel Farage’s thwarted ambition to replace the entire “unsustainable” NHS with an insurance based system.

More prudent colleagues stopped him putting it in the Kipper manifesto, which is sensible for a party trying to appeal to Labour voters, while actually being right wing Tory in attitudes and core culture.

UKIP activists deny it but if it looks like a duck and quacks, I say it’s a duck.

All party support

Back to Cinderella.

On Monday mental health got rare political attention, not just from one party leader - deputy prime minister Nick Clegg - but also from Ed Miliband, whom the Tory press routinely dismisses as “the new Neil Kinnock”.

Clever Tory Chris Patten believes him to be highly intelligent and not to be underrated in the coming campaign.

‘Happily Miliband’s second priority in office would be early intervention too’

Addressing a mental health conference for specialists to thrash out the future of the services available in NHS England, Clegg’s was the more substantial speech.

As HSJ reports, he suggested that the unstated bias against mental health may require it to be protected from easy cuts within block grants - a familiar salami process that coalition snips have made worse since 2010. Radical stuff.

The Labour leader called this approach a “false economy” in his speech, and one that piles on physical health costs to the wider NHS and adds to work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits bill.

“It saves £1.75 to the exchequer for every £1 invested [in mental health],” said Miliband.

He used Barts Health Trust chair Sir Stephen O’Brien’s new (Miliband commissioned) report to flag up Labour’s 10 year plan - due this month - to integrate mental, physical and social care.

Specifically, the Labour leader wants “an end to the scandal of the neglect of child mental health”.

Three-quarters of adult mental problems surface before 18, but only 6 per cent of the scarce mental health budget is spent on under 18s, which is obviously short sighted.

Yet child and adolescent budgets have been trimmed, along with beds. Kids end up in police cells. Ten per cent of children have diagnosable problems but most don’t get help.

We all know this; few families are untouched by it.

Yet “parity of esteem” remains an elusive goal in practice. Perhaps it’s because a stigma still hangs around depression or anxiety that does not attach itself to a broken leg.

Talking loud

Promoting next month’s “Time to Talk” day, Clegg says: “Silence costs lives.”

He’s surely right.

Inevitably, Clegg sees the coalition’s record as a glass half full.

From April, people who are struggling with psychosis will start treatment within two weeks of referral (parity with cancer) and those needing fashionable talking therapies (wonderful, but they don’t work for everyone) will be “guaranteed” treatment in six weeks, “18 at an absolute maximum”. Warm words, perhaps, and better than none.

‘Child and adolescent budgets have been trimmed, along with beds. Kids end up in police cells’

There are plenty more of them, including an appeal for a “zero suicides” attitude, as pioneered in battered, post-industrial Detroit, which Lib Dem care minister Norman Lamb visited for inspiration. It’s not true that most would-be suicides want to die, say Clegg and Lamb.

Happily, Miliband’s second priority in office would be early intervention too, in the form of talking therapy access in 28 days.

Don’t be cynical as we await a Tory counter bid. Talking helps.

Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian