It hasn’t always been like this, but mental health is something which politicians now talk about. In the run-up to next week’s general election mental health has even featured in public appeals to voters. The Liberal Democrats have particularly campaigned in this area, and in their manifesto promise £500 million per year for better mental health, and specifically make a case for investing in research. Labour talk about giving mental health the same priority as physical health, and the Conservatives say pretty much the same. Reviewing all the main parties’ manifesto promises for evidence of concrete plans for post-election improvements to mental health care, over on his blogsite the Psychodiagnosticator observes ‘that many of them were so vague as to amount to no promise at all‘. I think he has a point.
Possibly the broad manifestos produced in the run-up to a general election are not the places to look for fully worked-up blueprints of what future mental health policy across the UK might look like. Perhaps, more accurately, we should not think about ‘UK policy’ in this context at all. Members of Parliament elected to Westminster next week, from amongst whom a new government will be formed, will have authority to directly shape services in England only. Health and social care remain areas over which devolved authorities have jurisdiction, and for a ballot delivering a government with the power to pronounce on mental health care here in Wales we must look to the National Assembly elections to be held in 2016. I’ve indicated before that mental health policy here is different from that in England, and indeed from other countries in the UK. Consider again the case of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure. This is a piece of legislation for Wales alone, mandating for care and treatment plans, care coordinators, access to advocates in hospital and the right of reassessment within secondary mental health services following discharge. It was introduced in the face of some strong, pre-legislative, criticism from at least one senior law academic (Phil Fennell) who in 2010 began his submission to the National Assembly by saying,
The gist of my submission to the Committee is that this measure, although well-intentioned, is cumbersome, unduly complex, and will lead to a delay in providing services which ought to have been available already to service users and their families in Wales under the National Service Framework for Adult Mental Health and the Care Programme Approach.
Five years on the Measure has not only passed into law, but been subjected to a round of post-legislative scrutiny by the National Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee (see my post here), to which the Welsh Government has now responded. With data from across both England and Wales, COCAPP (and in the future, COCAPP-A) will have something to say about how care planning and care coordination are actually being done, and readers will be able to draw their own conclusions on the extent to which changes in the law trigger changes to everyday practice. And, whilst we’re in policy comparison mode, for a view from Scotland try Paul Cairney. He argues that divergence in mental health policy across the UK, exemplified by contrasting English and Scottish experiences of reforming the law, reflect differences in both the substance of policy and in policymaking style.
In all of this I am, again, reminded of the wicked problems facing all policymakers who seek to intervene in the mental health field. Whatever direction it takes, future policy will be open to contest and will surely trigger waves of consequences.Follow @benhannigan