New call to boost mental health care

Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham has joined fellow former health secretaries in calling on the Government to promise better services for mental health patients.

The borough MP has signed the open letter voicing “alarm and dismay” at apparent failings in the current system.

The letter urged ministers in Theresa May’s administration to honour a pledge made by her predecessor, David Cameron, that the NHS would treat mental health equally with physical problems.

Conservative former health secretaries Lord Lansley, Stephen Dorrell and Kenneth Clarke and Labour’s Andy Burnham, Alan Johnson, Patricia Hewitt, John Reid, Alan Milburn and Frank Dobson were joined by two former NHS chief executives, the chair of the House of Commons Health Committee and several former ministers from three parties in signing the letter to a national newspaper.

The signatories said they were “encouraged” by earlier Government statements backing calls for mental health patients to receive “the same timely access to treatment as others enjoy”.

But they added: “Despite the warm words, one year on we see the same enduring injustice, the massive economic cost and the distress suffered by countless families across the country.

“Despite promised increases in funding, mental health trusts are still suffering cuts. Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45, people in crisis are still routinely shunted across the country in search of a hospital bed, children with eating disorders are too often turned away from services, and there is a growing mental health crisis among young women.

“We are alarmed and dismayed that so many of these points echo those made a year ago when promises of real change were made by David Cameron and George Osborne. We urge their successors to make good the promise of genuine equality.”

Mr Burnham, MP for Leigh, was health secretary in Gordon Brown’s government in 2009 and 2010. He is Labour’s candidate for the Greater Manchester mayoral elections next year.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “This is an issue that both the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister have focused on.

“We are investing a record £11.7bn a year in mental health. Compared with 2010, we are seeing around 1,400 more people accessing mental health services every day.”