Government inaction on mental health condemned by every former Health Secretary of past 20 years

Former health minister Norman Lamb said inaqeuate mental health is a 'stain on our country'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 18 November 2016 10:16
The signatories urge Theresa May to honour her predecessor's pledge
The signatories urge Theresa May to honour her predecessor's pledge

Every former Health Secretary of the past two decades has signed an open letter voicing alarm at the Government’s inaction over mental health provision, with one suggesting it is a “stain on our country”.

In the letter, published in the Times, Jeremy Hunt’s predecessors claim that despite “warm words” released in Government statements, mental health services across the country are still suffering cuts. They add there is “enduring injustice” faced by patients with mental ill health.

The nine previous holders of the post, now held by Mr Hunt, urge Theresa May’s administration to deliver on a pledge made by her predecessor David Cameron, that the NHS would treat mental health equally with physical problems.

Conservative former health secretaries Lord Lansley, Stephen Dorrell and Kenneth Clarke and Labour's Andy Burnham, Alan Johnson, Patricia Hewitt, John Reid, Alan Milburn and Frank Dobson were joined by two former NHS chief executives, the chair of the House of Commons Health Committee and a slew of former ministers from three parties in signing the letter.

The signatories said they were "encouraged" by earlier Government statements backing calls for mental health patients to receive "the same timely access to treatment as others enjoy".

But they added: "Despite the warm words, one year on we see the same enduring injustice, the massive economic cost and the distress suffered by countless families across the country.

"Despite promised increases in funding, mental health trusts are still suffering cuts. Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45, people in crisis are still routinely shunted across the country in search of a hospital bed, children with eating disorders are too often turned away from services, and there is a growing mental health crisis among young women.

"We are alarmed and dismayed that so many of these points echo those made a year ago when promises of real change were made by David Cameron and George Osborne. We urge their successors to make good the promise of genuine equality."

Norman Lamb, the former Liberal Democrat health minister, who arranged the letter, said: “It is a stain on our country that people with mental ill health are so often treated as second-class citizens.”

Current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the newspaper: "We are making progress against our goal to address the difficulties faced by those with mental health problems - spending by clinical commissioning groups has increased by £693 million, every area in the country has put together plans to transform children's mental health services, and our suicide prevention strategy is to be refreshed, all backed by added investment."

The letter comes as health bosses warned that patients in England will see rising waiting times, rationing and cuts in staff unless the NHS gets an injection of cash.

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