Norman Lamb will chair a commission looking at the links between poor mental health, public services and the economy, set up by local authorities in the West Midlands, they have confirmed to HSJ.

  • Norman Lamb to lead panel looking at link between mental health and economy
  • Former care minister will work with Geraldine Strathdee and Kevin Fenton on the commission
  • Regional work could produce proposals to be applied more widely

The West Midlands Commission on Mental Health panel will include NHS England national clinical director for mental health Geraldine Strathdee and Public Health England director of health and wellbeing Kevin Fenton, as well as the Liberal Democrat former care minister.

It has been created by the West Midlands Combined Authority, a body for regional cooperation between councils. The area’s clinical commissioning groups are also supporting the work. HSJ understands it will look at the West Midlands specifically but those involved hope it will produce proposals that can be applied more widely.

The combined authority said in a statement to HSJ today: “Local authority chief executives from the region [have] identified that poor mental health and wellbeing is a significant driver of demand for public services and has a negative impact on the economy.”

Norman Lamb

Norman Lamb will lead the panel looking at the link between mental health and the economy

Mr Lamb said: “This is a really interesting and exciting opportunity to make a difference for those with mental ill health. It’s brilliant that local authorities in the West Midlands have taken this initiative.”

More detailed terms for the commission are expected to be decided later this week. Issues it is expected to look at include how best to incentivise public services to improve mental health, therefore reducing welfare costs and promoting employment and growth - for example, by sharing resulting financial savings with the NHS. The work is expected to last around nine months.

This issue was highlighted in the NHS Five Year Forward View, published by national NHS leaders last year, which pointed out that mental health problems accounted for a large proportion of employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit claims, and the low employment rate for people with severe and enduring mental health problems. It said: “During the next Parliament we will seek to test a win-win opportunity of improving access to NHS services for at risk individuals while saving ‘downstream’ costs at the Department for Work and Pensions, if money can be reinvested across programmes.”

Paul Maubach, chief executive of Dudley CCG, one of the areas covered by the combined authority, said local NHS organisations must support “the positive steps that local authorities are making to work together”. He said the panel would “look at how public services can be transformed to reduce impact of poor mental health and wellbeing. “A key aspect of this will inevitably need to be to look at how we support people to remain productive and in work – and yet much of our population live in one area and work in another – so the only sensible approach is for us to work together on these issues,” Mr Maubach added.

The other areas covered by the authority are Birmingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.