Tasked with delivering real change

It’s a sign of the changing times that the NHS has set up a mental health taskforce, and I am really pleased to be its independent chair.

As we get towards the end of this Parliament, there can be no doubt that awareness of mental health as an issue has grown in visibility and significance. Part of this is due to the stronger voice of people with mental health problems and part of it is linked to the growing evidence of the need – in every family, classroom and workplace.

If the past five years have been a period for awareness, the next five will surely be a period for action. The NHS Five Year Forward View sets out a destination for mental health services by 2021, which is about getting the right support for the right people at the right time.

Our task is to set out a route map for the next five years, with an eye to the following five as well. We need to have recommendations ready for a new Government to consider seriously before the next spending review so we can make a cohesive case for additional investment in mental health.

In making that case we need to look across wider society as well as the NHS. We know the huge impact that poor mental health can have on people, families, workplaces, and on wider society. After many years of bringing mental health out of the shadows, it has become apparent that this is one of society’s most pressing issues. It’s crucially important the NHS is there with the right services at the right time, but it’s also important that we look at the wider benefits of getting this right and the consequences of getting it wrong.

If I’ve learnt something from the last few years in mental health, it’s that the taskforce needs to be able to co-produce the work with input from people with lived experience – families, clinicians, voluntary organisations and providers – so we can work together to find the best solutions.

We will also need to ask some difficult questions of ourselves: Are we currently spending money and time on the right things? What is the role of primary care and acute hospitals in mental health? How can mental health be truly embedded in the rest of the Five Year Forward View so that it becomes the first thought rather than an afterthought?

As a starting point, we are looking at three areas: what are the biggest barriers to improving services; what examples of good practice exist that we could learn from and replicate; and what three things would make the biggest difference to mental health services?

We won’t have all the answers so we are looking for suggestions. If you have ideas and thoughts to contribute, contact

There is a sense of urgency around this work. Too many people are taking their lives, having their life chances damaged or losing hope because the right support hasn’t been there for them. We need to get this right.

Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer has been Chief Executive of Mind, the leading mental health charity working in England and Wales since May 2006.

He is Chair of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), the leading voice of the UK’s charity and social enterprise sector. Paul is also a trustee at Lloyds Bank Foundation which invests in charities supporting people to break out of disadvantage at critical points in their lives.

Paul is Chair of the NHS England Mental Health Taskforce – bringing together health and care leaders and experts in the field, including people using services, to lead a programme of work to create a mental health Five Year Forward View for the NHS in England.

Paul has an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of East London, is an Honorary Fellow of St Peter’s College Oxford and The Royal College of Psychiatrists, and was awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours 2016.