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Mental health care not yet on par with physical health, as each party promises change

PUBLISHED: 12:14 02 June 2017 | UPDATED: 13:05 02 June 2017

A protest march against cuts to mental health services and the Fermoy Unit in King's Lynn last year. Picture: Matthew Usher.

A protest march against cuts to mental health services and the Fermoy Unit in King's Lynn last year. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016

As research suggests around 10m British adults are diagnosed with a mental health condition, and more than 55,000 people in Norfolk and Suffolk were treated by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) last year, mental health could be a key issue for voters in next week’s election.

Chloe Smith. Photo: Eliza Boo Photography Chloe Smith. Photo: Eliza Boo Photography

The Conservatives were the first party out of the gate to promise a “sweeping reform” of mental health legislation in the UK.

They pledge to scrap the Mental Health Act, which the prime minister has said has allowed the unnecessary detention of thousands of people and failed to deal with discrimination against ethnic minority patients.

And they would look to employ 10,000 more staff in the NHS’ mental health services by 2020.

In their manifesto the party claims the government has already introduced parity of esteem - that patients should be able to access services which treat both mental and physical health conditions equally and to the same standard.

But last year the independent Mental Health Taskforce said there was “not yet parity between an individual’s rights to physical and mental health care.”

Parity in mental health services is also promised by Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn’s 10 pledges to transform Britain.

And Labour have promised to improve children’s mental health provision, alongside a new Index of Child Health which will measure progress against international standards in four sectors plus extra funding for child and adolescent mental health services.

The party has also pledged to end out-of-area placements by 2019 - a pertinent promise in Norfolk and Suffolk, as NSFT patients spent a total of 3,207 bed days outside the region in the last financial year due to a lack of available beds.

Clive Lewis, Labour, at the Norwich South election hustings, held at the City of Norwich School. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Clive Lewis, Labour, at the Norwich South election hustings, held at the City of Norwich School. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Lib Dems have also vowed to end out-of-area placements, alongside ring-fencing extra funding for mental health.

North Norfolk candidate Norman Lamb was the minister responsible for mental health under the coalition government.

He said: “We will invest in improving waiting time standards for mental health care in the NHS, end the scandalous use of force against people with mental ill health and prioritise the national action to dramatically reduce the number of people who take their own lives.”

What some of the region’s candidates say

Norman Lamb. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE Norman Lamb. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Chloe Smith, who is standing for the Conservatives in Norwich North, believes her party’s manifesto goes a long way to improving the plight of those need mental health care.

But she admits there remains a lot of work to be done.

She said: “We still have some way to go to improve the provision here in Norfolk.

“The trust is on a journey but a lot of people I speak to tell me there remains a lot to be done.

“There are issues with waiting times and a lack of joined-up thinking.

“I have been working with the trust before in Norwich North and parliament so I am well aware of some of the problems.

“I am proud, however, that it has been a Tory government that has recognised the need for parity of esteem.

“Our manifesto sets out how we can transform things with extra staff and money.”

Labour’s candidate in Norwich South Clive Lewis believes cuts have increased pressure on mental health staff.

And he also blames austerity for increasing numbers of people requiring treatment.

“When people are barely getting by, when they are struggling to feed their kids the stresses and strains of life can be huge,” he said. “At my surgeries I often speak to people who are just so stressed out by life – that might be because there is a problem with their benefits or they cannot afford to live properly while trying to scrape together a wage in the gig economy.”

Mr Lewis believes that alongside taxing the wealthiest 5pc in order to fund mental health care, staff should also drive reform: “Before the cuts began staff predicted the damage that would be caused. They are the experts and can tell us what needs to be done now.”

North Norfolk Liberal Democrat candidate Norman Lamb understands the problems surrounding mental health provision first hand.

When his son needed care the wait was simply too long and Mr Lamb’s son was forced to go private.

“We are lucky,” Mr Lamb said. “We could afford to take my son private when he needed care.

“But for many families that will not be the case.

“I have heard stories from constituents about people having to wait months and months after an initial assessment.

“It simply has to improve.

“One family told me how their daughter was seen but then told it would be six months before she could receive the care she so desperately needed.

“Imagine how demoralising it most have been for that person to have take the brave step to ask for help only to be told it would take months.

“This is an issue we need to address - now.”

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