Ministers are to launch a major £400 million drive to tackle the way mental health is treated on the NHS – including the ambitious target of "curing" up to a million sufferers in the next four years.
The move, designed to put mental health treatment on the same footing as physical illness or injury and to end the stigma attached to depression and other conditions, is to be unveiled in the next few days by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister (pictured).
Ministers want the doctors to stop simply prescribing pills to patients with a range of conditions including eating disorders, self harm, addictions, attention disorders and post-natal depression – a practice which has led to claims the NHS is turning Britain into a "Prozac nation".
Instead they are targeting a massive take-up of "personalised" services, including one-to-one counselling and group therapy. The coalition believes at least one million people will take up these options over the next few years.
In addition, ministers want the NHS to "cure" up to one million sufferers by the next general election, expected in May 2015, by which time they hope that more than 70,000 people currently out of work with mental health problems will be back in employment, the Telegraph has learnt.
Mental health problems are estimated to cost the economy £77 billion a year – with sufferers dying, on average, 10 years earlier than the rest of the population.
As a symbol of the drive to "normalise" treatment, the ancient law that sees an MP automatically losing their seat if they have spent at least six months in a mental hospital is to be scrapped.
Patients will have new rights effectively to force their GPs to refer them to a mental health specialist – or simply to book appointments themselves.
The government also wants a new focus on the "neglected areas" of mental health – particularly among the elderly, whose conditions are often simply put down to the effects of retirement, and children, who are told their problems are just "part of growing up."
The £400 million to fund Mr Clegg's drive is a significant "capture of funding from The Treasury at a time when Whitehall budgets are suffering 25 per cent cutbacks. Spending on the Department of Health, however, has been ring fenced until 2014-15.
A coalition source said: "We've got to get away from the Prozac nation, Valium culture sort of approach where GPs just prescribe antidepressant drugs to people rather than trying to treat them and to cure the underlying problem.
"Much much more can be done, more usefully, using personal services including counselling and group therapy."
The mental health drive is billed as a key part of the coalition's highly ambitious programme of NHS reforms – which include scrapping primary care trusts (PCTs) and handing effective control of the large majority of the health budget to GPs by 2013.
"Any willing provider" – including private companies – will be able to offer NHS services if they can supply them at NHS prices, while 10 regional health authorities will be scrapped.
The plans have attracted criticism – not least because they were not spelt out in the coalition agreement, the detailed statement of policy put out by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the weeks following the formation of the new government last May.
The agreement did, however, specifically address mental health issues – with ministers promising to increase access to talking therapies, and to explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation for the mentally ill.
The treatment of dementia, meanwhile, was "prioritised" within the NHS research and development budget.
The decision to scrap the law that forces an MP to stand down from their seat if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than six months follows criticism from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health.
A recent published by the committee found that one in five MPs had personal experience of a mental health problem. The group said that it was inconceivable that any MP who was physically incapable of working for six months due to a serious illness would be forced to stand down.
Parliament last considered the law, section 141 of the Mental Health Act, as recently as 2007, and voted to keep it. Since then campaigners, including Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications director, have lobbied hard to scrap it.
Labour had a patchy record on mental health during its 13 years in power, according to charities and campaigning groups.
The King’s Fund, the health think tank, reported last year that suicide had fallen to historically low levels and said specialist services for people with severe mental health problems, introduced under the 1999 National Service Framework, had enjoyed some success.
However, The King’s Fund also expressed concern that the National Audit Office had concluded that the national dementia strategy “lacks the mechanisms to bring about large-scale improvements”.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
The Telegraph in the UK:
Posted by BA Haller at 9:56 PM