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Labour throws down gauntlet on mental health

Mental illness ‘the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age’

Mark Gould

Monday, 29 October 2012

Labour leader Ed Miliband today set out a range of proposals to improve mental health and wellbeing saying psychiatric illness is the "biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age" .

In a speech at the Royal College of Psychiatrists he said it "blights the lives of millions", costing UK business £26bn and the NHS an extra £10bn a year.

Mr Miliband wants to give patients the same legal right to mental health therapies as physical healthcare. And he is setting up a taskforce - led by the chairman of Barts Health NHS Trust, Stephen O'Brien - to draw up a strategic plan for mental health in society.

And he announced proposals to improve mental health provision in the NHS, including:

  • Rewriting the NHS constitution to enshrine patients' legal right to therapies for mental illness
  • Mental health training for all staff
  • Better integration of physical and mental healthcare, and social care

Mr Miliband said: "Too often governments have been stuck in a mindset that thought that physical health should always take priority - or that the answer to our health crises started and stopped with new government programmes.

"But good mental health doesn't start in hospital or the treatment room, it starts in our workplaces, our schools and our communities.

"So the task falls as much to organisations like the CBI as it does to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In fact, everybody has a part to play. Only a nation acting together can overcome the challenge we face."

He said that just as Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli addressed the national challenge of sanitation in the 19th Century, and the foundation of the NHS followed in the 20th Century, the mental health challenge facing the UK must be addressed this century.

"There are so many people in Britain today who could be treated but who are intimidated from seeking help. And so many people who need support but... believe that no-one will care.

"For far too long our leading politicians have been far too silent about mental health, part of a taboo running across our society which infects both our culture and our politics.

"It is a taboo which not only blights the lives of millions but also puts severe strain on the funding of our NHS and threatens Britain's ability to pay our way in the world. It is a taboo which must be broken if we are to rebuild Britain as one nation."

The Labour leader also criticised those in the public eye who "abuse the privilege of their celebrity to insult, demean and belittle others".

"Just as we joined the fight against racism, against sexism and against homophobia, so we should join the fight against this form of intolerance."

Meanwhile, the annual costs to UK business are £15bn in reduced productivity, £8.5bn in sickness absence, and £2.5bn to replace staff who can no longer work.

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