Making progress on mental health

18 April 2018 | Cassie Staines

Making progress on mental health

Factchecking is just one part of the picture. As well as providing non partisan information on the most important public debates, and linking straight to the source of claims, we also want to to improve access to high quality information and statistics.

We have some news about the work we did at the start of this year after publishing a series of factchecks about mental health.

First, let’s remind you what happened…

Back in 2017

In November last year, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jeremy Hunt and the Royle Family actor Ralf Little had a heated debate on Twitter about the state of mental health provision in the UK.

We weren’t interested in who won the argument, or who got the most retweets, but we did want to make sure that you had access to the facts behind the tweets.

You can read our factchecks here. Updates to each can be found at the bottom of the pages.

When we checked the debate we found that not all the figures were accessible, and others were used in a misleading way. We took action to try to get to the bottom of the claims - read about it in this blog.

Here’s an update on the three main follow up actions we took.

1. Mental health spending

As part of the Twitter debate, the Health Secretary tweeted a screenshot of comments made last year by the Chief Executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens. He had told a committee of MPs that overall spending on mental health had gone up. But neither NHS England nor the Department of Health were able to provide us with the published source of that figure.

We wrote to the Chair of the committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, in January to ask for her help in getting NHS England to make the source publicly available. The UK Statistics Authority also wrote to Mr Stevens on the back of our letter.

On 31 January, Simon Stevens replied to Dr Wollaston (and the UK Statistics Authority) pointing to the latest version of the Mental Health Five Year Forward View Dashboard, published that same day. This includes the missing figures that make up the overall mental health spend.

We are pleased that these figures are now publicly available, but as far as we can tell they were only published in January 2018, so did not exist when they were given as evidence at a select committee in October 2017.  This means they couldn’t be properly scrutinised for three months.

2. Unpublished statistics on crisis care

We also looked at these comments made by the Health Secretary about the roll-out of mental health crisis care in Accident and Emergency Departments, known as liaison services. When we looked into the figures, we discovered that they hadn’t been published, which meant no-one could check the numbers.

After we wrote to the UK Statistics Authority asking for their help in January, Health Education England and NHS England published the figures. We welcome the publication of the figures, but it is important these are available to everyone from the moment they are quoted.

3. Staff working on mental health

A big claim in the Twitter debate was about the increase in the number of staff working in mental health trusts. We found that although the figures quoted by the Health Secretary were accurate, the way that the numbers were selected and presented was confusing and misleading.

Last year, the UK Statistics Authority wrote to NHS Digital outlining their concerns about the clarity of data on mental health workforce. In January, we also wrote to the Authority to ask what responsibility Ministers have to present the full context, when selecting from the range of figures available.

On 23 January, NHS Digital published a new mental health workforce report, which we welcome. It makes clear there is no one way to count mental health staff and that none of the ways it has identified gives a full impression of the staff working in mental health and learning disabilities if used in isolation.

What did we learn?

We’re glad that there is now more clarity and access to information about mental health statistics in the public domain. But this information should have been available when it was being quoted in parliament and on Twitter.

Public debate should be based on publicly available information so everyone can judge the claims we hear. We’ll keep working with others including the UK Statistics Authority and MPs to make sure together that figures are published before they are used in debate, and easily accessible to all.

We’re grateful to the UK Statistics Authority and Dr Sarah Wollaston MP for their help in getting to the bottom of the figures on mental health.

Full Fact’s aim is not to catch people out, but to improve the accessibility of information in public debate for everyone. Help us push for accurate public debate and become a donor today.


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