Funding cuts cast shadow over new mental health strategy


User-led groups have welcomed a new government mental health strategy, but fear that spending cuts put its success in doubt.

The new cross-government strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, pledges “parity of esteem between mental and physical health services”, with a focus on “early intervention and prevention” and services for children and young people.

The strategy also focuses on reducing the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health conditions, including support for the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign.

Sarah Yiannoullou, manager of the National Survivor User Network, said the initial reaction from mental health service-users and survivors had been to welcome the focus on children and young people, and a more “preventative approach” that would ensure the emphasis was “not just on crisis management”.

But she warned that self-help groups, survivor groups and small voluntary and community organisations that had helped with preventative support were having to close due to funding problems.

She added: “There is such a conflict between what is being said in the strategy and people really believing that this can be delivered in the current climate.”

She said the network was also disappointed with the government’s lack of emphasis on service-users “leading the agenda”.

She said: “We did have some input, but at a distance. DH is still going to the large charities, but service-user led organisations need to be there as well.

“There are a lot of issues that only people currently accessing services will be aware of. We need to bridge that gap.”

The government also pledged to introduce legislation later this year to repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act, which says that MPs who are sectioned for at least six months must lose their seats.

Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for political and constitutional reform, who campaigned for the law to be scrapped in opposition, said section 141 “sends out entirely the wrong message that if you have mental health problems your contribution is not welcome in public life”.

The strategy also allocates £400 million to pay for 1.2 million more people across England to receive psychological therapies over the next four years. This should mean 3.2 million people will use such services between 2011 and 2015.

The mental health charity Mind said the money was “an important step, as we know this is a highly effective and economic way of supporting people”, but warned of the “backdrop of sweeping reforms to the NHS” and spending cuts, and said that “basic services must continue to operate on a local level despite tightening budgets”.

3 February 2011