A Year of Climbing Hills
It’s a journey of thousands of miles before people living with mental illness have equal rights and treatment but in the last year we have taken some great strides. We caught up with William Higham, Associate Director for Campaigns and Policy, to look back at some significant achievements in 2018.
The last year has seen huge movement, with publication of the NHS long term plan, the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act and the decision not to cut back on supported housing. In each case, Rethink Mental Illness has been at the heart of making the change.
December saw the launch of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act (1983). We have been pushing for a reform of this outdated law for years. The number of people being detained is going up over time, and a disproportionate number of those detained are from the black, Asian and minority ethnic community. Rethink Mental Illness sat on the main steering board and several topic groups for the review.
The issues resonated across our groups and services, and we consulted with them closely. The Prime Minister showed personal leadership on the issue. As soon as the report was published, the Government accepted two vital calls that were in the review, and strongly supported by us. The first was that people could choose their own nominated representative and the second that their advance decisions on treatment be given legal weight. These were big victories, though the campaign will not be over until a new law is on the statute book.
The NHS England long term plan, published on 8 January, was born when the Government committed more money to the NHS - an additional £20bn a year by 2023. Mental health was set out as one of the plan’s priorities. There is a commitment that mental health will receive a greater proportion of the new money. Rethink Mental Illness has been working hand in hand with NHS England to achieve this. As well as gathering evidence of the need to do more for people living with severe mental illness, we also made the public case for change. Working with the think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, we examined how much it would cost to deliver the Government’s aim of parity of esteem, with mental and physical illness being given equal status and funded accordingly.
We provide the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health. It’s a committee of MPs of different parties that looks at the issues. We co-produced a report On the Road to Parity that was heavily influential. Much of the content was quoted in the run up to publication of the plan. It also acknowledged the huge progress made under the Five Year Forward View, which was the previous NHS plan launched in 2016. However, it also took stark testimony, from hundreds of people, about the shortfalls in care faced by people living with severe mental illness.
People talked about being stuck in a limbo where they were too ill to benefit from the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies roll-out, and not yet unwell enough to be in crisis. They described the despair of waiting times, lack of treatment pathways, and the right treatment simply not being available. It was a powerful report put forward by Conservative and Labour MPs together. The new Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, came to the launch, days into the job. He was visibly moved by what he heard, as was everyone else.
Later, we published our Right Treatment, Right Time report. It was based on a survey of thousands of people who use our services. It found that people living with severe mental illness were waiting on average 14 weeks for assessment and 19 weeks for treatment. People talked about being pushed into crisis by the delay. The Sunday Telegraph and other media picked up on this which provided helpful pressure in support of NHS England.
The NHS England long term plan has the ambitious aim of a new model of care for severe mental illness within the community. Bringing together primary and secondary care, housing, employment and support for physical health. Forty years on, it is a genuine attempt to provide care in the community and Rethink Mental Illness will be working to support the process and keep it on track.
Supported housing is vital for many people moving back into the community. Rethink Mental Illness provides supported housing around the country. This year the funding was under threat. We formed a coalition across the housing and health sectors and successfully campaigned to stop the threat.
This year, we will be tacking the issue of ‘locked rehab’ – a growing number of institutions where thousands of people are kept, often a long way from home, without a clear treatment path.
Thanks to the support of our followers, our campaigners and our staff, we have had an extrodinary year. But with each advance, we see the next hill to climb before mental illness finally get the attention it needs.
Can you help us make a difference for everyone affected by mental illness in 2019? Sign up below to become an ecampaigner today.