Mental health treatment still failing six years after dramatic change promised, health secretary admits

Mental health treatment is still failing six years after the government first promised dramatic change, the health secretary has admitted.

Matt Hancock acknowledged huge gaps in services – despite a 2012 Act pledging “parity” of care with physical health – saying: ‘It’s still way off where we need to be.”

Last night, in a world-first, Theresa May appointed the first ever minister for suicide prevention as part of a push to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.

She also pledged £1.8m to ensure the Samaritans’ helpline remains free for the next four years, amid fears of a “national scandal” in suicide rates among teenagers,

But a report by auditors has highlighted how hundreds of millions of pounds allocated to improve mental health services may have been diverted to other areas.

It also said just 25 per cent of children with a diagnosable mental health condition receive treatment or counselling – a figure that will rise to only 35 per cent, even with a promised £1.4bn cash injection.

Asked why the proportion was so low, Mr Hancock said: “The truth is that, for an awful long time, mental health has simply not had the same level of support – both resources and how society talks about it

And, on the National Audit Office (NAO) report, he added: “Having read it, I think that it’s very accurate.

When, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, it was pointed out that – even under the government’s plans – two-thirds of young people needing treatment would miss out, Mr Hancock replied: “That’s right.

“This is an improvement on what there was before – and it’s still way off where we need to be.”

Mr Hancock also refused to say whether waiting time targets for people requiring surgery for physical health problems – of 12 weeks – would be introduced for mental health services.

“My ambition is that we have resources in place, the goals in place, and that this is clinically led so we tackle this rising problem,” he replied.

Mr Hancock pledged that mental health would be “a priority” when the promised extra £20bn for the NHS was spent – although it is still unclear how that will be funded.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner welcomed Ms May’s announcement, but made clear her frustration at the current lack of “proper funding”.

“We need to see urgent action and implementation now. We cannot afford to wait five years, which feels like a lifetime to a young child,” she said.

“I want to see a counsellor in every secondary school, every primary school having access to counselling services, a closing of the huge gap in what is spent on adult and children’s mental health and a system in place that provides support and treatment for every child who needs it, when they need it.”

Labour said a focus on suicide prevention was “long overdue given the appalling increase in suicide rates since 2010, particularly among young people”.

But Barbara Keeley, the party’s mental health spokeswoman, pointed out that Labour had appointed someone with specific responsibility for mental health, at shadow cabinet level, as long ago as 2015.

“Services are still being underfunded, leading to adults having to wait as many as four months for treatment in certain areas, while one in four children are being rejected for treatment after referral,” she said.

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