HSJ’s fortnightly briefing covering safety, quality, performance and finances in the mental health sector.
Theresa May’s term as prime minister will be defined by her failure to deliver Brexit, but she is desperate to also be remembered for her efforts to tackle the “burning injustice” of mental health.
In announcements yesterday, Ms May said mental health’s “great revolution” should lie in prevention, which echoed words she first uttered in 2017, when she suggested the biggest potential for improvement would be found in classrooms or workplaces.
Prevention is a worthy agenda that is often just given lip-service by politicians. And until any real funding changes in social care and public health services are offered, prevention of mental ill health will remain a unicorn.
Any impact prevention has on NHS services will also take a long time to bear fruit, so it’s difficult to judge whether any of Ms May’s prevention policies will have any great benefit.
But what we can say is that her efforts to spotlight mental health will have made it easier for NHS England to secure better funding for the sector when negotiating with the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care.
The legacy the PM may more easily lay claim to is the review of the Mental Health Act.
Launched by Ms May in 2017, the review made 150 recommendations for change, but has since appeared to be stuck in the non-Brexit quagmire.
In her departure speeches yesterday, she promised the review would not be forgotten, saying there will be a white paper by the end of the year.
Sir Simon Wesley, the man who spearheaded the review, told HSJ that this parting commitment was “absolutely essential”.
Setting a challenge for Ms May’s successor, he said: “It is essential that the next PM, whoever it is, ensures that the Mental Health Act white paper is in the next Queen’s speech. Much of what should be done can only be done with legislation.”
Given the national platform mental health now has, surely the next PM will not want to drop the ball and have this review fall through the cracks?
One of the review recommendations on which the government could really prove mental health is a national priority would be the gift of enough capital funding to improve mental health wards.
Yesterday HSJ published a story revealing the extent of the NHS’s use of “dormitory-style” wards in mental health services, with around 1,260 beds still located within shared wards (rather than the single en-suite accommodation recommended).
Replacing hundreds of mental health wards will not come cheap, of course. Essex Partnership University FT, for example, said it would cost them around £30m.
Projects like this will require central funding, but as revealed by another HSJ story last week, capital budgets are still tightly constrained and subjected to repeated raids.
Mental Health Matters is written by HSJ’s mental health correspondent Rebecca Thomas. Tell her what you think, or suggest issues she could cover, by emailing her in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending a direct message on Twitter.