'If cancer treatment was comparable to mental health treatment, it would be a scandal', says researcher

'If cancer treatment was comparable to mental health treatment, it would be a scandal', says researcher

Theresa May and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt visit a hospital after Mrs May announced extra funding in June. Image: Getty

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The NHS needs an extra £12 billion to achieve ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical illness, a report says.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says mental health spending must almost double from the current £12 billion a year to £23.9 billion to improve the availability and effectiveness of mental health treatments.

Harry Quilter Pinner, the report’s lead author, told Julia Hartley-Brewer on talkRADIO that “we’re so far away from achieving parity of esteem it’s untrue”.

“Even if the government met the targets it set itself, 65 percent of children with a mental health condition would not get treatment,” he added.

“75 percent of adults with a mental health condition would not get treatment.

“If we saw comparable levels for cancer there’d be an absolute outrage and a scandal, but we tolerate it for mental health.”


'The threshold for accessing mental health services is so high'

Children are struggling to access mental health treatment, says IPPR report author. Image: Pexels

The NHS aims to increase access to talking therapies by over 20% by the end of 2018/19, and provide services for an extra 49,000 children in two years’ time.

But the IPPR report urges services to go further, and calls on NHS England, which is currently drawing up a long-term plan to distribute the extra funding announced by Theresa May in June, to prioritise spending on mental health.

“Time and time again, what we see is that people can’t access the services they need until the mental health condition they have is so severe that it meets the threshold,” said Quilter Pinner.  

“We don’t have enough staff [or] enough funding in mental health, they’ve made the threshold for entering mental health services so high.

“What we see, for example is schools referring children to the CAMHS service [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service], and they are getting refused treatment because they’re not deemed severe enough.”


'Medicalising normal emotions'

Hartley-Brewer asked if there was a tendency to “medicalise” human emotions, and therefore make it more difficult to provide treatment to people with more severe complaints.

“A lot of the time, we’re using the term ‘mental health problem’ about someone having completely normal human emotions that are appropriate to the situation - grief, sadness, anger - and we’re medicalising them,” she said.

“Would it not be easier to treat those who do have a genuine mental health problem if we could find those people in the haystack that is, everyone’s got a mental health problem who’s anxious about their exams?”

“I think there’s a risk we overmedicalise some of these things, and that’s not always the best way of doing it, it might create stigma in itself,” Quilter Pinner replied.

“But sometimes when you have low-level mental health conditions, they can become serious if you don’t get support.

“CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] or talking therapy might actually be a really helpful thing for someone who’s experienced grief or anxiety. And the risk of us not offering treatment to those people is that those things snowball and exacerbate.”

The IPPR’s report has cross-party support and is backed by 15 charities including Rethink Mental Illness, Samaritans and Mind.

A letter, signed by the chief executives of the 15 organisations, was delivered to the Prime Minister on Thursday, calling for her to action the IPPR’s suggestions and “translate your commitments into bold action”.