My most recent blog

Theresa May and Mental Health: Another U Turn?

The Prime Minister was praised earlier this month for speaking out on the issue of mental health, and the need to do more. But with the Conservative manifesto being released last week, a subtle but very significant withdrawal of one of Theresa May’s promises seems to have gone unnoticed.

On the 7th of May, the Prime Minister pledged to replace the outdated Mental Health Act, introduce mental health into the schools curriculum, and appoint 10,000 more mental health staff to the NHS.

The Conservative manifesto released last week refers to each of these areas, but, crucially, it only promises to recruit “up to” 10,000 mental health staff. A Conservative government could technically appoint just one more mental health professional over the next three years and still fulfil this pledge, something that would be disastrous for a country that has faced increasing pressure on mental health services.

It may seem pedantic, but this rewording makes the recruitment figure an aspiration rather than a promise. The significance of this can be best understood by considering the Conservative party’s recent track record when it comes to delivering on commitments to mental health.

The 2015 Conservative manifesto promised to increase mental health funding, ensure that there are adequate numbers of therapists “in every part of the country”, and “continue to take your mental health as seriously as your physical health”.

According to the King’s Fund, in 2015-2016, 40% of UK mental health trusts saw their budgets cut, and in March of this year, it emerged that £800 million set aside for mental health services was being redirected to other areas of the NHS. A number of clinical commissioning groups also announced cuts in mental health spending in April. Despite Conservative claims that legislation had ensured equal priority between mental and physical health, a report from the independent Mental Health Taskforce last year confirmed that there continues to be a disparity between mental and physical health services, in part due to the absence of maximum waiting times for mental health services.

I am very pleased that the Liberal Democrats are very clear on prioritising mental health and would ensure that waiting times for mental and physical health are the same.  We would also ring fence £1 bn (of the £6 bn to be gained for the NHS by putting a penny on income tax) for mental health.

In contrast, the fact that the Tory 2017 manifesto does not support the recruitment pledge that Theresa May made just a few days before the manifesto was released should be a huge warning sign and a harbinger of another effective u turn.

If we consider her own voting record, Theresa May has a checkered history when it comes to matters of health and welfare. May voted against providing disability and welfare benefits and guaranteed jobs for the unemployed, affecting groups at heightened risk of mental illness.

Theresa May’s refusal to rule out cuts to disability benefits, and controversy and u turns over social care manifesto promises, do nothing to suggest that she has great concern for segments of society especially affected by poor mental health.