The government should appoint a ministerial champion for mental health and well-being to sit in the cabinet, the NHS Confederation is urging.

The demand is made in a strategy launched this week by the confederation's mental health network and six other organisations.

Network director Steve Shrubb said the minister should not sit in the Department of Health but should instead straddle several departments to deal with issues such as housing, education, work and benefits.

He told HSJ: "The NHS is an element of any mental health strategy but the evidence is really significant that if you want to help someone stay mentally healthy, you keep them in work.

"The government has had ministers for women and children in various guises. We talk about mental health issues and do diddly squat."

The change was unlikely in the short term, he said, but may be possible in 18 months' time. "People recognise that we need whole-government strategies."

The coalition has been formed to influence mental health policy before the government's 10-year plan for mental health, the national service framework, ends next year.

Its members, which include Mind, Rethink, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, Together, the Mental Health Foundation and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, have all agreed that the national service framework made a substantial difference. But the vision document argues some of its recommendations are "yet to be meaningfully implemented" and not all new models of care have been fully evaluated. It calls for extensive pilots to look at ways of giving individuals control over budgets.

In February, prime minister Gordon Brown appeared receptive to more cross-departmental strategies in his forward to the Independent Living Review for disabled people, where he talked of "breaking down the artificial barriers created by fragmented initiatives and organisational boundaries".

DH national director for mental health Louis Appleby and DH director general for commissioning and service management Mark Britnell also emphasised the wide effects of mental illness during speeches at a mental health commissioning conference last week, where they stressed the role of commissioners in improving standards.

Mr Britnell said: "Primary care trusts must... drive innovation in a way we haven't seen historically in an NHS dominated by the supply side."

Professor Appleby said the biggest challenge in mental health was to tackle health inequalities caused by racism, social pressures and poverty. He said: "Commissioners' task is to create mental health services which people from all communities can trust."

He called for mental health services to demonstrate "cultural competence" and to be sited in prominent locations such as high streets and churches.