Three-quarters of people suffering from mental illness do not have access to treatments which would improve their lives and save billions of pounds every year, experts warn today.
A damning report, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, says the NHS is failing millions of adults and hundreds of thousands of children with common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Professor Lord Layard of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance last night called for a designated Cabinet minister to reflect the burden of mental illness on society. Mental illness accounts for nearly half of all ill health suffered by people in Britain today, yet only a quarter of sufferers receive treatment, compared with the majority of those with physical conditions.
The LSE's Mental Health Policy Group which includes doctors, psychologists, NHS managers and economists, says this under-treatment is the most "glaring case of health inequality" in Britain today.
The authors blame NHS trusts for failing to commission, or buy-in, evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behaviour (CBT) and family therapy, despite clear recommendations by spending watchdog, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.
Mental illness can make existing physical conditions worse and also lead to "unexplained" debilitating symptoms such as migraine and bowel problems.
These "extra" physical symptoms cost the NHS at least £10bn a year, money which would be much better spent on psychological therapies, they claim. Two-fifths of patients suffering from anxiety or depression can recover if treated with just 10 sessions of CBT.
The report condemns local health trusts for using spending money meant for mental health on other conditions, and criticises those cutting services even further to make ends meet.
Care services minister Paul Burstow said: "Mental illness costs £105bn per year and I have always been clear that it should be treated as seriously as physical health problems.
"We will shortly publish our plans to make sure the NHS, councils, voluntary organisations and others can play their part in improving the nation's mental health."
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