A person centred approach is the key to success for Labour’s mental health policy
Policy Officer, Giuseppe Paparella, reflects on the events of the Labour Party Conference – the first since Jeremy Corbyn took the helm as leader, and what discussions suggest about future health policy directions.
With over 30 events exclusively dedicated to health and social care – which saw the active involvement of both the newly appointed shadow health minister Heidi Alexander and the shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger – the 2015 Labour conference has paid a good degree of attention to the many issues currently of interest to the health sector.
In particular, the conference has discussed and finalised composite motions on the NHS and mental health. In the former, members of the Labour party have expressed concern about the possibility of deterioration in the quality of care that the NHS provides in the future, as a result of longer waiting times and increased reliance on the use of agency staff. In a very clear-cut and resolute statement, delegates have pledged to support patients and health professionals in working towards an integrated health and social care system, reducing waiting times, avoiding service closures, properly remunerating staff, and making a serious attempt to tackle the causes of ill health as proposed by the Marmot review (economic inequality, substance abuse, excessive consumption of sugar and insufficient exercise).
Even more interesting has been the party’s focus on mental health issues. The Labour delegates agreed on giving mental health provision higher political priority and to create the post of the Shadow Minister for Mental Health to this specific purpose. Such a decision was taken as a result of longer waiting lists, lack of funding, shortage of healthcare workforce and facilities (following the loss of 3,300 specialist mental health nurses and 1,500 mental health beds), and the plans to reduce the proportion of the budget spent on mental health for 2015/16 by 50 of the 130 CCGs. At a fringe event organised by the mental health charity Mind, the newly appointed shadow minister for mental health Luciana Berger argued that the fragmentation of health services, as set out in the current legislation, make access to mental health care ‘almost non-existent’ for many people. As the panel discussed, a lack of integration of services also means that a patient’s treatment is often left to the discretion of the first point of contact, with the consequence that patients with mental health illnesses can miss out on the opportunity and the right of receiving the treatment most suitable for them.
Although the focus on mental health and the creation of a shadow minister post dedicated to it is laudable, a clear plan or policy priorities to tackle poor mental health provision were not suggested. From the work and experience of Picker, we know that understanding mental health experiences is crucial, and therefore gathering reliable, robust and effective evidence is a fundamental step to improve care quality. As an organisation committed to improving people’s experiences of health and social care, Picker has recently worked closely with leading children’s NHS hospitals and organisations such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. This work includes the ongoing development of a dedicated set of tools, designed to effectively and accurately collect Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) feedback and user experiences. Understanding patients’ feedback on privacy and dignity, integrated care, and the level of involvement of friends and family is essential to improve mental health provision.
Using the results of national initiatives such as the NHS Community Mental Health Survey to measure peoples’ experiences alongside the intelligence gained by voluntary sector organisations, would make it easier to understand peoples’ needs and map services to them. A mental health service that does not support and enable those working in it to shape care around the needs of those who depend on it cannot hope to deliver quality. If mental health services are not rooted in a person-centred approach, they will become even more and more inefficient, not socially inclusive, and essentially retrograde. This is why we urge the new shadow health ministers to develop their own policy strategies around the concepts of patients’ feedback and patient-centred care, on which any realistic improvements can be achieved.