Manifesto clash: mental health

3rd May 2015

"We have legislated to ensure that mental and physical health conditions are given equal priority" Conservative manifesto

"In 2012, we […] wrote equality for mental health into law. We are now making real progress, introducing the first ever waiting time standards in mental health" Liberal Democrat manifesto 

"Mental health will be given the same priority as physical health" Labour manifesto 

The Labour Party is pledging to give equal priority to mental and physical health, yet the Coalition parties say they've put this into law already. So what's going on?

The aim to establish equality of treatment for mental and physical health conditions has been put into law, but all the parties agree that more work needs to be done in order to realise this objective in practice.

The Coalition government included equal priority for mental and physical health conditions in both its annual lists of government objectives ("the Mandate") which NHS England has a legal duty to act on.

But that duty starts at the top of the health system. In many cases, actions from the top—such as new targets for some services—will take a while to feed through to front-line services.

For instance, the Mandate for 2015/16 says that standards for the treatment of eating disorders should be developed. Developing the standards will involve an analysis of information on what services exist at the moment and how long people are waiting for them. Depending on that information, NHS England may then decide on the appropriate standards for a pilot scheme to be based in one region of England. And subject to that information we could see standards and targets rolled out nationally.

So it's not going to happen overnight.

That might help explain why both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, in addition to talking about their record on putting parity into the Mandate, have pledged new schemes as well funding towards the goal.

Another challenge is addressing the relative lack of information about mental health services.

We're particularly lacking in information on specialist services (generally for rarer or more serious conditions). What evidence there is suggests services can vary across geographical areas and are not always sufficient to meet demand.

And we only have information on the treatment of children with mental disorders when they've ended up in hospital.