Tory manifesto promises to tackle 'injustice' of mental health but will give no extra funding for services

Theresa May accused of 'tokenism' for plans to end stigma around mental health

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The Independent Online

The Conservatives have identified mental health as a “burning injustice” in their manifesto, promised to “break the stigma” around mental illness and said they will ensure patients are treated fairly.

However, the party has not pledged any extra funding for mental health services, which doctors and campaigners say are struggling due to local authority cuts and increasing demand.

Theresa May was accused of “tokenism” after announcing new policies designed to fight discrimination against mental health conditions without tackling their causes or providing sufficient investment to treat them.

In the manifesto, the Conservatives promise to “address the need for better treatments across the whole spectrum of mental health conditions.”

“We will make the UK the leading research and technology economy in the world for mental health, bringing together public, private and charitable investment,” it says.

The manifesto also repeats the Government’s plan to give “parity of esteem” to mental health conditions in the NHS and transform how mental health is regarded in the workplace.

But Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said the Prime Minister’s vision for mental health was “painting over some dangerous cracks and fault lines” in psychiatric services.

“At SANE, we hear daily of heartbreaking struggles from individuals and families who are being failed. For this promised revolution to succeed, there needs to be a guarantee that resources are placed in frontline services,” she told The Independent.

The Conservatives say mental health funding has been increased since 2010 and is now at a “record” level of £11.4bn this year. 

However, it was revealed last month that spending on mental health services is being cut in five regions of England, despite promises the NHS will invest an extra £1 billion a year in them by 2021.

Andrew Flintoff: Mental health can be a struggle but is not a stigma

Charities have also warned that local authorities are spending less than one per cent of their public health budget on preventing mental health problems on average.

Natasha Devon, the Government’s former children’s mental health tsar, told The Independent the manifesto contained “a lot of rhetoric and sloganeering” on the issue of mental health, but fell short of outlining necessary changes.

Ms Devon was made the Department for Education (DfE)’s children’s mental health tsar in 2015 but was sacked after speaking out against Government policies.

“Working at Government level for those nine months, I felt there was a perception mental health was a vote-winner because it affects so many people, but there was no willingness to take any kind of dramatic action to invest the necessary funding,” she said.

“What we have, and this manifesto is no different, is a lot of rhetoric and sloganeering – ‘parity of esteem’ keeps being used over and over again – but nothing that’s going to dramatically change the landscape of mental health in the way that really needs to happen.

“To me, it felt like more empty promises,” she added. “It’s tokenistic. The whole speech was fluffy and what [Theresa May] said about mental health was no different.”

The DfE denied at the time that Ms Devon had been politically motivated to silence criticism, instead saying her role was being dropped to avoid “confusion” as a new cross-government mental health champion was being appointed.

Ms Devon warned that this funding was often not ring-fenced and often “isn’t reaching people on the ground”.

“It’s being allocated to the local authority, and local authorities are incredibly squeezed, so in 49 per cent of cases they’re spending it on other things," she said.

"I know mental health charities and projects that have been promised pots of funding, and it’s never actually reached them.”

Mental health problems are the largest cause of burden of disease in the UK and are responsible for up to 28 per cent of the total burden of health problems, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

They are said to cost the UK an estimated £70bn to £100bn a year.

The Foundation said it welcomed the increased prominence of mental health in all the major parties’ election campaigns, but called for “a longer term and more substantial commitment to funding and need more detailed information on how the cross government prioritisation of mental health and community support will be funded.”

The manifesto said a new Mental Health Bill would make sure mental health problems were treated with the same urgency as physical health conditions, and promised to reform laws to protect workers against discrimination for mental health conditions.

Unison also called for funding to match this promise. “For too long mental health has been denied equal priority with physical health. A person with depression deserves the same treatment as a patient with a broken leg," said Sara Gorton, the union's deputy head of health.

“But this is never going to happen unless there's proper funding," she said.

"Money for mental health should go to the services needing it most. The real 'injustice' is the Conservatives are making broad promises with no real commitment.”

The manifesto also promises a real-terms funding increase of £8bn for the NHS, but questions were raised over whether this will apply to non-ringfenced budgets such as those which covers investment in building projects, public health and training for doctors and nurses.

The British Medical Association (BMA) accused the Conservatives of using “smoke and mirrors” to give the impression of a funding boost.

“Rather than extra money, this essentially extends the funding already promised in the 2015 spending review for another two years and falls far short of what is needed,” said council chair Dr Mark Porter.

“The NHS is already at breaking point, and without the necessary investment patients will face longer delays, care will be compromised and services will struggle to keep up.

Targets such as the 95 per cent of A&E patients being seen in four hours, and no waits of longer than 18 weeks for non-urgent surgery, will be retained if the Conversatives win the next election, according to the manifesto.

A new GP contract is also being proposed, with family doctors expected to “come together to provide greater access, more innovative services, share data and offer better facilities, which ensuring care remains personal”.

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