What is parity of esteem?

1 March 2017
What was claimed

This Conservative government introduced parity of esteem for mental health services in the NHS.

Our verdict

The government wants to achieve equality between the physical and mental health services provided to people, but it’s not there yet. The Coalition and Conservative government both introduced commitments to parity of esteem in legislation and official documents. The idea has been talked about for decades.

“It is this Conservative government that has introduced parity of esteem in relation to dealing with mental health in the National Health Service.”

Theresa May, 1 March 2017

Parity of esteem’ in the NHS means that patients should be able to access services which treat both mental and physical health conditions equally and to the same standard.

The aim for equality between physical and mental health was something that was included in the Coalition’s mental health strategy in 2011, recognised in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and the NHS Constitution in 2015 after the Conservative government came to office. The idea is something that has been talked about for decades.

The Coalition government also produced a plan for achieving parity of esteem by 2020.

The Prime Minister’s office told us that she was referring to the government’s policy of parity of esteem more broadly, rather than any specific action it has taken. That said, her statement could be misinterpreted to mean that the government has now achieved parity of esteem, which many experts have said is not the case.

The independent Mental Health Taskforce said last year that despite a number of steps there was “not yet parity between an individual’s rights to physical and mental health care”.

This year it said that there’s a lot to be optimistic about in mental health and that the “infrastructure needed to sustain change has been put in place”, but it’s a long-term project.

The King's Fund, a health think tank, has said recently that mental health services need “greater parity of funding”. A committee of MPs has also said that NHS budget pressures and the need for more planning to ensure the right workforce is in place are making it difficult to achieve equality.

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