About three years ago a lady came to one of my regular constituency surgeries at a local library. Most the time when people come to see me it’s about a personal problem, but not this time. This lady was on a mission.
She wanted to talk to me about the mental health of children and young people. She told me the one in 10 children have a mental health problem at any one time. And that half of lifelong mental health problems have their first signs by the age of 14. Worst of all just one in four children with a diagnosable mental illness receives any treatment.
It was a light bulb moment for me.
And I had an opportunity to do something about it; I was the minister for mental health. The following Monday I started asking questions of officials, questions led to submissions, submissions led to plans, plans have led to action. In the space of a single parliament, thanks to some amazing civil servants, exceptional clinical leaders and inspirational young people, we will have created a new talking therapy service for children and young people up-skilling the child and adolescent mental health (CAMHs) workforce on the way and introducing measurement of what matters to patients, the outcomes, recovery.
And it all started in a constituency surgery.
I won’t pretend all is rosy. CAMHs services are under huge pressure, cuts are delivering short-term savings while storing up costs for the future.
MPs can play an important role as leaders in the communities on mental health. Talking about it, helping to break down the stigma can make all the difference.
But we have a long way to go.
There are unacceptable gaps between the experience of those with physical health needs and mental health needs: in life expectancy, employment, in healthcare.
The mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, has set the goal as parity of esteem. But the pace of change has been glacial.
Everyday there are headlines about people waiting for more than four hours in A&E, more than 95% are seen in less than four hours. Where are the headlines for mental health? It’s estimated that two thirds of people with a mental health crisis wait for more than four hours to see an expert in their needs.
We need access standards for mental health to hold the system to account.
But we need more than that. We need to transform healthcare in this country if we are to realise the goal of parity. That is why I launched a commission with the thinktank Centre Forum to draw up recommendations for making parity of esteem a reality. I have a great team of commissioners working with me sifting the evidence, sharing their vision and passions.
And we want to hear from as many people as possible. One way people can contact us is through twitter @CFMentalHealth. Please let us have your experience and ideas.
Paul Burstow MP is for Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park. He served as Minister for Care and Support (including Mental Health) between 2010 and 2012. He is chairing the Centre Forum Commission on Mental Health.