Getting care right for children would transform this country’s mental health

Rosena Allin-Khan
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Children waiting days in A&E in a mental health crisis. More than one million people turned away from mental health services without being seen. Growing racial disparities in those detained under the Mental Health Act. This is the reality of mental health services under this Conservative government.

To ensure that the UK is the best country to grow up and grow old in, we need to have prevention as our guiding principle. Take the young child who comes into A&E having fainted. Clinicians need the time to assess the underlying causes. Do they have an eating disorder? Are they being bullied at school? Are there problems at home? Or what of the person desperate to access talking therapies for their depression, only to find that, after their assessment call where they are told they will receive the next available appointment, there is no call back and they fall off the waiting list, never having been seen.

After 13 years of Conservative mismanagement, our NHS is at breaking point. It’s simply unacceptable that doctors and nurses feel as though they go to work with one arm tied behind their back, unable to provide the standard of care they know their patients deserve. Colleagues on the frontline will always have patients’ best interests at heart – but it’s the government that are failing patients.

Despite years of warm words about parity of esteem for mental health, the government has just canned their ten-year cross-government plan for mental health. That’s how little they care about mental health, and the decision demonstrates just how short-sighted they truly are. Thousands of people were consulted about these plans last year. It was an opportunity to put patients first and turn the tide on the growing mental health crisis, but once again with this government, it was all for nothing and service users’ experiences will be ignored. Mental health care was already playing catch up after years of underfunding – this is now the latest setback.

Demand for mental health services is soaring, but the resources are simply unavailable. This Conservative government is out of touch with the needs of the country. It’s as if they’re hoping that by burying their heads in the sand, the spiralling waiting lists will magically disappear. Surely they don’t need a doctor to tell them how ridiculous this is?

This government should not cut corners when it comes to young people’s mental health. Good mental health starts in childhood. That’s why Labour has a plan for children’s mental health, with prevention at its heart. Labour’s vision for future generations is one where mental health conditions are treated early. Adverse childhood experiences are the greatest driver of mental illness in adulthood – it’s just common sense to get mental health care right for young people in order to transform the future of the country’s mental health.

The next Labour government will ensure access to a mental health professional in every school, and we will put an open access mental health hub in every community. Every child should have the ability to raise concerns about their mental health with someone they trust, in an environment in which they feel safe. All of this will be funded by ending tax breaks for private schools.

This is in addition to the next Labour government guaranteeing mental health treatment within a month for all who need it. This will be made possible by recruiting 8,500 new mental health staff to ensure that an additional one million patients will be treated every year by the end of our first term in office. By closing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers, the Labour government will put patients first and get treatment times down.

Under this Conservative government, our communities are being pitched against each other; the reality of the postcode lottery for mental health services is a badge of shame. The next Labour government will have a truly cross-departmental approach, putting patients first, with prevention as our watchword. Labour will work with local councillors, local leaders and local experts to get the support right: mental health support fit for every community. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health – to behave as though there is, is to fail patients.

This all boils down to a matter of fairness and the kind of society we want to live and thrive in. Labour firmly holds the belief that every child, regardless of background, should have the opportunity to grow up physically and mentally healthy and have a future in which their greatest potential can be realised. We owe it to our children to be ambitious for their futures and support them in doing so.

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