All three parties must tackle mental health crisis now, says Alastair Campbell

 

Health Correspondent

Britain “cannot wait another generation” to tackle the mounting crisis in the nation’s mental health, Alastair Campbell has said, in a challenge to all three political parties to put the issue at the heart of their election manifestos.

Mr Campbell, a former advisor to Tony Blair who has become a prominent campaigner on mental health issues, told The Independent that under the Coalition “mental health services have gone to the front of the queue for cuts”, but said that all three parties now had a duty to give mental health “the priority it deserves.”

His call came as a coalition of psychiatrists and campaigners published a five-point "manifesto for mental health" with measures which they said could end the “scandal” of thousands of patients missing out on care,  with countless left on waiting lists of up to a year or longer.

Mental health services have been cut throughout England in the past four years, as health commissioners attempt to find savings in the midst of the biggest ever squeeze on the NHS’s budget. The funding crisis in the health service is set to be one of the key battlegrounds in next year’s General Election campaigns.

Mr Campbell, who helped Labour to three election victories and is set to take an advisory role in Ed Miliband’s 2015 campaign, said that the main parties had to make “real commitments” on mental health and admitted that Labour had not done enough on the issue during their time in power.

“Though I think the Blair Government made progress on mental health and mental illness, nobody can claim that we delivered the parity between mental and physical health that is now part of the NHS constitution,” he said. “Since 2010 mental health services have gone to the front of the queue for cuts. I hope Labour really make mental health a major part of their policy commitments and that the Tories and Lib Dems give it the priority it deserves. It is an issue whose time has come and we cannot wait another generation to tackle something that has to be tackled now.”

A new document, A Manifesto for better Mental Health, has been published today by six of England’s leading mental health organisations, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

In a five-point plan to revive mental health services, it calls for a real terms funding increase for the sector, commitments to put mental health education on the curriculum, and guarantees that existing pledges to introduce maximum waiting times for mental health are honoured by whichever party leads the next Government.

Labour’s shadow Public Health Minister Luciana Berger said that mental health would be “a priority” for a Labour Government.

“We are putting mental health at the heart of our vision for an integrated health and social care system to ensure that it gets the focus and attention it so desperately needs,” she said.

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