Today’s Guardian interview with Professor Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, reveals how large the mental health care and treatment gap has become. Professor Wessely draws comparisons between mental health and cancer services, saying:
“People are still routinely waiting for – well, we don’t really know, but certainly more than 18 weeks, possibly up to two years, for their treatment and that is routine in some parts of the country. Some children aren’t getting any treatment at all – literally none. That’s what’s happening. So although we have the aspiration, the gap is now so big and yet there is no more money,” he said.
Wessely said there would be a public outcry if those who went without treatment were cancer patients rather than people with mental health problems. Imagine, he told the Guardian, the reaction if he gave a talk that began: “‘So, we have a problem in cancer service at the moment. Only 30% of people with cancer are getting treatment, so 70% of them don’t get any treatment for their cancer at all and it’s not even recognised.”
NHS England places considerable emphasis on ‘parity of esteem‘, with the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme intended to be a one, key, part of making this happen. Evidence like Simon Wessely’s, combined with (for example) BBC/Community Care investigatory evidence of cuts in services, points to a chasm between the stated intention and the frontline reality.
This lack of parity extends to research. Within the last week or so the Liberal Democrats made a promise to include in their general election manifesto a commitment to increase mental health research funding by £50m each year. It has often struck me how poorly funded mental health research is. Mental health researchers can apply for support to bodies like the NIHR and NISCHR, and many do with some success (see all my previous posts on this site relating to COCAPP, RiSC and Plan4Recovery, for example). But unlike most other areas of health care the mental health field has no large-scale, dedicated, charitable research funding. Mental Health Research UK was founded in 2008 as (it says on its website) the UK’s first charity devoted specifically to raising funds to support research into the causes and treatments of mental illness. And that’s about it, I think: unless someone is able to tell me differently?