This week, Theresa May made a personal commitment to transform mental health support in the NHS but, like David Cameron before her, such promises are empty ones when viewed in the light of a record of failure.
Battles for diagnosis, lengthy waits for treatment, an over-reliance on drugs, and, frequently an abject lack of compassion. This is the picture that people with mental health problems, their families and professionals paint of mental health care provided by the NHS.
Despite the Tories repeatedly promising improvement, during the last Parliament they oversaw more than an eight per cent reduction in funding for mental health support – the staggering amount of £600 million.
Thousands of people in need of support are now having to travel out of their area for treatment with one young patient being given a psychiatric bed 400 miles away from the support of her family. This cannot be allowed to continue.
The NHS is also facing a winter crisis. A third of hospitals have declared they need urgent help to deal with the number of people coming through their doors.
A&E departments are turning away patients and one day last month fifteen hospitals ran out of beds. Elderly patients are kept languishing on trolleys in corridors for over 24 hours and the pressure on our fantastic hospital staff is becoming unbearable.
Not only is the pressure being felt severely in our hospitals, but millions of patients have to wait up to four weeks to see their doctor at overstretched surgeries. These extended waiting times pose a serious risk to patients this winter because it means non-life threatening conditions can become life-threatening.
It is not just in A&E where peaks in workloads are seen, but the peaks in primary care are magnified. As a service that is already skating on thin ice - a service that is stretched to its limit – something has to give.
Jeremy Hunt has promised that every patient in every part of England will be able to see a GP from 8am to 8pm seven days a week by 2020.
GP’s cannot sustain a five-day service as the number of doctors have failed to keep pace with the soaring pressure on NHS services, yet the Government has made this promise the flagship reform of their second term in office.
It is vitally important that the Government brings forward the £700 million of social care funding planned for 2019/2020 now and pledges a new funding settlement for health and social care in the next budget. It also needs to commit to the ring-fencing of funding for mental health services to ensure that Clinical Commissioning Groups do not use that money for other purposes.
It cannot be acceptable to have the British Red Cross on the front line having to be used to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital to free up much-needed beds.
People need to receive the care they need and deserve, because if they don’t they will simply end up returning to our hospitals and the cycle begins again.