MOST people agree the NHS is in crisis. Lines of ambulances outside A&E and delays in accessing GP appointments have been all over the press for months, but there is a hidden crisis. Enormous numbers simply cannot access NHS services, their struggles invisible because their condition cannot be seen.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 introduced ‘parity of esteem’. This means mental health must have equal priority to physical health. There have been exciting examples of investment in mental health – in particular, the recent announcement of critical children’s beds in Dorset – but the incidence of child suicide points to the real crisis.
In 2021 there were 221 deaths by suicide in children aged ten-18 – up 30 per cent from 2020. For comparison, the annual loss of children to cancer is about 250. Children don’t wait months or years for medication to treat life-threatening physical conditions or get told to come back when their disease has spread further – but we do with young people presenting with deep mental distress.
Covid has impacted mental health and I expect the cost-of-living crisis will shatter the wellbeing of many more. But to improve things we need to speak out – that’s the point of Time to Talk Day.
NHS funding is complex and I don’t pretend to have the answers. We have an ageing, growing and less active population, and we are asking the NHS to do things that could not have been imagined by Beveridge and Bevan. We must think differently, as the first Director General of the World Health Organisation – Dr Brock Chisholm said: “Without mental health there can be no true physical health.” That remains true today.
We must all take care of our mental health to reduce the need for medical support but when we do need them it is cruel to expect people – especially young people – to become paralysed, lose their education or employment and potentially lose their life because we don’t have the promised parity in mental health.
It’s true we spend more annually on the NHS but that figure is not keeping up with the size or demographics of the population – compared to nations like France, Germany and the USA we spend far less per person.
Some people suggest it is the fault of immigration – it’s not. People are living longer with more complex and more expensive needs, and more people are not contributing because they are too sick or too old. We are trying to pay for more with fewer people.
Liberal Democrats have called for a penny on income tax for NHS and Social Care. That may not be enough, and it must be ring-fenced and directed properly to go to the heart of the problem. This is a problem for us all, and so we must all contribute to the solution. Repairing mental health – especially for the young and the working population – is a fantastic way to restore the potential of people to earn money and pay their taxes. It makes sense to invest in mental health.
Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Mid Dorset & North Poole