Our final Labour Party conference fringe event was chaired by Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network.
He was joined by Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, Cllr Paulette Hamilton from Birmingham, Joe Rafferty, chief executive of Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust and Luciana Berger MP, who sits on the Health and Social Care Select Committee.
Paul Farmer started the session by suggesting that the NHS ten-year plan presented an opportunity for a parallel ten-year plan for what goes on around the periphery of the NHS, including housing, welfare and employment.
The conversation about mental health needs to recognise the role that schools, housing and early intervention can have, and identify those in the community whose needs are greatest. Collectively we need to be making a really strong argument for capital investment in prevention, including in these areas on the fringes of NHS services that carry such importance to people’s mental health.
Joe Rafferty agreed and issued a call to arms, saying firmly that fine words are useless without fine action. He highlighted the link between addiction services and mental health problems, and lamented the extent of the cuts to those services.
He acknowledged that we need better prevention work, which is a core function of local government as it is so well positioned to carry it out in coordination with providers. Prevention is particularly important because of how mental health illness in childhood can wrap around the rest of our adult lives. He did express optimism about the amount of progress that has been made in the last ten years, and hope that similar progress can be made in the next ten.
Cllr Paulette Hamilton shared her own experiences of being a mental health champion. She decided to become one as a result of the worsening mental health services in her community.
She stressed the importance of creating working environments that promote positive mental health, ensuring that services work together efficiently to make the most of the limited resources on offer for mental health, and to make it easier for patients to enter and exit the system.
She also urged the government to recognise the vital role of local government in improving mental health outcomes in communities; there should be a place-based approach to tackling mental ill health.
Local government can do a great deal in tackling the stigmatisation of mental ill health in the workplace, and we need to ensure that education continues. She brought up homelessness and the mental health problems it brings, suggesting we need a holistic approach that deals with both together.
Luciana Berger MP spoke about investment in mental health services, and how parity of esteem with physical health is not reflected in funding; continuing the national conversation is important. She suggested that the system is so geared towards what happens when people end up in a crisis, but that local authorities could be in a strong position to do better preventative work with more funding. She said that we will never solve our mental health crisis if we leave it to the NHS and public health commissioners. She went on to discuss CBT, and how an over-reliance on this treatment has weakened the quality of what can be provided.
She also gave examples of some large employers that invest heavily in mental health facilities for their staff, although they are the exception, not the norm. Alongside these employers, unions have prioritised mental health recently and are making a significant difference in improving mental health in the workplace. She concluded with a point about individualising care; people need services that are right for them and we can’t be prescriptive about what treatments are appropriate for individuals.