The independent chair of the Mental Health Taskforce says the astonishing levels of engagement confirm the importance and urgency of the group’s work:
In embarking on the work of the mental health taskforce, our first priority has been to ensure we have the view of people who use services, their families, and professionals who work in mental health.
The response has been astonishing.
Over 20,000 people have taken part in our online survey, including people with lived experience of mental health problems, their family and friends, mental health and other health and social care professionals and the general public.
We have also engaged with communities whose voices are seldom heard, particularly those groups most marginalised by society. They have provided powerful messages about the diverse range of needs that services still fail to meet.
The huge response has shown us the strength of feeling around the need to improve services for mental health. There is a clear consensus among everyone we have spoken to so far that things need to happen – and urgently.
We know there are some excellent initiatives underway, such as the Crisis Care Concordat, which in time will have a real and significant impact on the quality of care people receive. But we need also to look at what we can do for everyone struggling with their mental health and asking the NHS for help now and in the future, whatever their age or background.
At the NHS Confederation annual conference, Simon Stevens and I have outlined the emerging themes of the response so far, which focus on four main areas: prevention, access, integration and attitudes.
Prevention – along with early intervention – is key. People are telling of the need for greater awareness about mental health across the whole of the NHS and for the principles of prevention and early intervention to be applied across the system so that services can identify earlier when someone might need support. We also need to look at improving access to support for specific groups, such as pregnant women and children and young people.
Access is coming up time and time again. People want to quickly access high-quality, effective care and treatment, when they need it. We are hearing calls for a wider range of talking therapies, including suitable options and provision for people with complex needs and access within community/primary care. Overall we will look to reduce the variation in access across the country, reduce waiting times and reducing inequalities.
There is a very strong emphasis on integration across the system. People want the NHS to treat them as a whole person, wherever they are, whenever they ask for help and whatever their needs. Mental health support for people with long term physical health conditions is lacking, and the physical health needs of people with mental health problems should be taken more seriously. We also need to look at better integration of physical and mental healthcare for people with specific mental health needs such as eating disorders and psychosis, so we can reduce the numbers of people who die up to 20 years too early.
Overwhelmingly, people want to be treated with hope, dignity and respect. Proposed solutions for this include mental health awareness for all NHS staff, having staff skilled in psychological support across NHS settings and better training and support for GPs, not least in offering alternatives to medication.
The NHS workforce also needs to focus on its own wellbeing, so that it is fit and well enough to support people using its services. People want to be put at the heart of planning their own care and experience better continuity of care so that no one falls through the gaps between different parts of the system.
We have been hugely encouraged by the high level of engagement from the NHS and the Arms-Length Bodies. Together we are looking at solutions and approaches to develop these themes into a strong strategy.
I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to feed into this process so far. I have been enormously impressed and encouraged by both the sheer quantity and the outstanding quality of the input we have had from all sides. One thing is for sure – we aren’t short of solutions.
The challenge for the taskforce now is to analyse all the information coming in and turn it into a workable plan of action. We are aiming to produce an ‘emerging findings’ report in the next month or so to use as a basis for further work across the NHS and beyond.
Paul Farmer has been Chief Executive of Mind, the leading mental health charity working in England and Wales since May 2006.
Paul is Chair of the NHS England Mental Health Patient Safety Board, he is an advisor to the Catholic Bishops on mental health and was on the Metropolitan Police commission on policing and mental health.
He is a trustee at the Mental Health Providers Forum, an umbrella body for voluntary organisations supporting people with mental distress. Paul is also trustee at Lloyds Banking Foundation and Chair of the ACEVO board.
In November 2012 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of East London in recognition for achievements in promoting the understanding and support of mental health.
Nominated by sector experts and voted by chief executives, Paul was selected most admired charity chief executive in the Third Sector Most Admired Charities Awards 2013.