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Liberal Democrats back plans for equality and fairness in mental health care

September 17, 2008 10:01 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference today backed plans to greatly improve equality and fairness in mental health provision in the NHS.

The proposals include: The ending of mixed sex wards in mental health units An absolute prohibition on anyone below the age of 18 being placed in an adult mental health ward The application of the mental health guarantee standard to mentally ill prisoners The right to commission services outside the NHS if an individual experiences long delays in accessing mental health treatment

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said:

"Mental health has long been one of the most neglected services in the NHS.

"It is a condition that touches every family - one in four of us will suffer mental health problems in our lifetime.

"Mental health care under Labour has been characterised by a disgraceful lack of access and poor facilities.

"Only the Liberal Democrats will transform mental health services, with faster access, safer wards and genuine equality of treatment.

"Mental health must no longer be this country's Cinderella service." Full text of the motion -

Conference notes that, despite funding for mental health services increasing by more than £1.5 billion since 1999, those experiencing mental health problems continue to suffer unacceptable discrimination in terms of access to services and treatment.

In particular, conference notes that:

i) Mental health has been estimated to cost the UK economy £48 billion every year in loss of output and cost of treatment.

ii) Currently there is inequity in treatment between patients with physical health needs and those with mental health needs.

iii) As a consequence of existing funding arrangements (waiting time targets and 'payment by results'), mental health trusts have suffered real term cuts in funding, resulting in services for some of the most vulnerable people being cut back.

iv) There are high proportions of depression and anxiety disorder sufferers who are not in contact with services, whilst many children and adolescents with conduct disorders and eating disorders remain undiagnosed and untreated.

v) There is a severe shortage of psychological therapists and family-oriented programmes which is compromising treatment and resulting in NICE guidelines on treatment not being met.

vi) As a result of this, drugs are often unnecessarily prescribed to individuals who need psychological treatment, as such therapy is not available.

vii) Conditions in many inpatient mental health wards are completely unacceptable.

viii) When people with mental health needs suffer physical health conditions, outcomes are significantly worse than the average, producing dramatically shortened average life expectancy for this group.

ix) Many people suffering from mental health problems languish in prison without appropriate, effective treatment.

x) There are over a million people on incapacity benefit as a result of mental health needs who could be supported back into appropriate work but currently do not get access to therapies.

xi) Mixed-sex wards and mixed wards of adults and young people under 18 still exist in mental health hospitals, despite the risks to vulnerable patients.

xii) Patient Choice does not extend to mental health services

Conference believes that the fundamental principles which the National Health Service must embrace and apply in the treatment of mental health needs are:

a) Equality: those with mental health needs should receive equal treatment from the NHS to those with physical needs.

b) Fairness: everyone should be entitled to a 'core package' of care.

c) Empowerment: individuals should be enabled to take control back over their own lives as far as possible.

d) Quality: individuals should be able to access high quality, appropriate treatment, delivered by highly trained professionals.

Conference condemns the existing discrimination within the NHS. Conference therefore calls for the following, to be funded within existing overall NHS budgets:

1. The introduction, in accordance with Policy Paper 84, Empowerment, Fairness and Quality in Health Care (2008), of an equal entitlement to treatment for all NHS patients; mental health service users would be entitled to treatment within the condition-specific maximum waiting time by 2012, failing which they would be guaranteed access to treatment paid for privately by the NHS. As a 'cinderella service', waiting times are currently unacceptably long and Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring that mental health services are resourced, organized and prioritized to make sure that no waiting time for treatment is longer than three months.

2. Personal care budgets to be granted to those patients who are able to make informed choices.

3. The introduction of the patient contract for those with mental health needs, as laid out in Policy Paper 84, Empowerment, Fairness and Quality in Health Care.

4. Independent Patient Advocates, providing information, guidance and support to both mental health patients and carers.

5. The ending of mixed sex wards in mental health units.

6. An absolute prohibition on anyone below the age of 18 being placed on an adult mental health ward.

7. Extra investment in clinician and practitioner capacity to ensure high-quality and effective services for both individuals and families.

8. Additional investment in mental health infrastructure in order to ensure appropriate and modern facilities for all patients.

9. The provision of extra capacity in mental health intensive care and forensic units to divert people in need of treatment away from prison and to assist those already in prison.

10. The application of the mental health guarantee standard to mentally ill prisoners.

11. A review of the basis on which NICE arrives at its judgments on the cost-effectiveness of treatments, aiming to arrive at a new system assessing costs and benefits as widely and as objectively as possible to try and capture in an equitable way the wider costs to the individual, carers and the economy of mental health conditions.

12. The introduction of effective financial incentives for Job Centre Plus and the NHS to ensure the provision of treatment assisting those on incapacity benefit back into appropriate work.

13. Employment support providers to be given the right to commission services outside the NHS if an individual experiences long delays in accessing mental health treatment.