At the beginning of last week the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office announced that Nick Clegg is to establish and Chair a new task force that will involve a number of Government Ministers who will meet within days to examine to urgently examine the following issues:
- how we can improve mental health services for young people
- welfare and employment issues and helping people back into work
- how we can improve crisis care and prevent the large numbers of people with severe mental health problems ending up in police cells and prisons
All of these are important issues and the final element is particularly relevant with the news from the end of last week that a Police force was obliged to ‘accommodate’ a 16 year old female for 36 hours because no mental health beds could be found across the whole country. However with the election campaign fully underway and less than 6 months of the Government to go, this seems to be at best an acknowledgement that the coalition should have been doing much more, much earlier. According to the press release on the Deputy PMs website “The taskforce will include the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary Theresa May, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and ministers from Education, Health and Defence.” It seems that if these important and powerful people meet in between their own election announcements and begin to explore how they could improve services together that May 2015 will be upon them before they know it.
I confess I cannot really understand how such a task force could work even if the election was 6 months behind us, rather than 6 months ahead. However for those of us with mental health concerns and diagnoses, what we don’t need is a sticking plaster over a gaping wound of poorly resourced and disconnected services, providing inadequate links between the mental health services and rest of the NHS. Assuming that the next Government includes the Labour Party in some form, to hold a coalition only task force when the three main parties were apparently able to agree on matters that relate to Scottish Independence. As Nick Clegg’s website points out, 1 in 4 of us suffer from poor mental health. The parallel with Scotland is that 1 in 4 of the British nations was considering leaving the union. The population of the UK that have mental health needs is some 15M people, a population that if in one nation would form the 65th largest nation in the world while Scotland is a mere 118 in the list of nations by size.
If we are going to have a meaningful task force, as well as an all Party group, we need some practitioners and clinicians who can speak about what will really make a difference, along of course with some who can speak on behalf of those who are poorly served by the existing services, and who can clarify what a good service should look like.