Parliament ‘sceptical’ about NHS England’s ability to deliver on mental health targets

An influential committee of MPs released a damning report today into the state of Britain’s mental health system. They found that only 1 in 4 people could access the mental health services they needed.

The cross-party Public Account Committee, in charge of making sure the Government spends money efficiently, said pressure on NHS budgets would make the Department of Health’s new mental health standards ‘difficult to achieve’ without taking money away from other services.

The Department of Health has pledged £1bn over 5 years to improve mental health provision but this is not ring-fenced. With the current financial pressures across the NHS, it will be tempting for NHS managers to use that money to plug short-term holes rather than invest in long-term  mental health provision.

Specific problems cited in the report include:

  • A lack of counselling in some schools meaning many miss the chance to have their symptoms identified early  – half of those who experience mental health problems do so before the age of 14 
  • Variability in the provision of services – in some areas 99% of people are seen in 6 weeks, in others it is just 7%
  • Lack of access to mental health care for current and former prisoners – 9/10 prisoners have a mental health problem, 7/10 have two or more

The Public Account Committee recommended, among other things, that the Department of Health and NHS England did the following:

  1. Figure out how much money they needed to pay for its mental health program, and which areas of spending they prioritised
  2. Join up services across government to improve continuity of care for those with mental health needs e.g. housing, social care
  3. Work out how many extra nurses and additional staff they would require to roll out their programs

Why these things were not done prior to rolling out new nationwide standards is not recorded. However, they do show a continuation of the Department of Health’s remarkably lax approach to planning ahead and gathering evidence, as shown by this argument from their lawyer in yesterday’s court case regarding junior doctor contracts.



Jeremy Hunt meets with media execs 7 times in 3 months – but doesn’t find time to see the BMA

Jeremy Hunt had meetings with 7 senior media figures between January and March this year, a period that includes 4 days of industrial action by junior doctors.

Jeremy Hunt, the UK Secretary of State for Health and Dr. Mark Davies, Director of Clinical and Public Assurance at the Health & Social Care Information Centre, visited the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health for a tour, given by Bernadette Loftus, MD, Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, Kim Horn, President, Kaiser Permanente, Mid-Atlantic States, and Phil Fasano, Chief Information Officer
UK Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt and Dr. Mark Davies visit the Center for Total Health. Credit: Ted Eytan

These included James Kirkup, Executive Political Editor at the  Telegraph; Hugh Pym, the BBC’s Health Editor and Alastair McLellan, Editor of the Health Service Journal, the trade magazine popular among NHS management.

These meetings follow on from eight meetings he had with media figures between October and December last year, including with the editors of the Sun, Daily Mail and the Telegraph. Hunt met both Amol Rajan, Editor of the Independent, and Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, twice in a six month period.

During this period, Hunt has met a grand total of zero times with the Junior Doctor Committee of the BMA, though junior ministers have met with the BMA to negotiate the new contract. Hunt has also met with other sections of the BMA including the Chair of the General Practice Committee, Chaand Nagpaul.

The full list of media figures Hunt met with from October 2015 to March 2016 is as follows:

  1. Fraser Nelson, Editor, The Spectator, October 2015
  2. Amol Rajan, Editor, The Independent, October 2015 and January 2016
  3. Tony Gallagher, Editor, Sun, 27th October 2015
  4. The BBC News editorial team, November 2015
  5. The Daily Telegraph editorial team, November 2015
  6. Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, November 2015 and January 2016
  7. The Mail on Sunday editorial team, November 2015
  8. The Daily Mail editorial team, December 2015
  9. Janine Gibson, Editor-in-Chief, Buzzfeed, January 2016
  10. Jim Waterson, Political Editor, Buzzfeed, January 2016
  11. James Kirkup, Executive Political Editor, The Telegraph, February 2016
  12. Alastair McLellan, Editor, Health Service Journal, March 2016
  13. Paul Goodman, Editor of Conservative Home, March 2016
  14. Hugh Pym, Health Editor, BBC, March 2016
  15. Fiona Godlee, Editor, British Medical Journal, March 2016.

Previous attempts to find out the content of these meetings were unsuccessful, with the Department of Health refusing to release details under the ‘development of public policy’ clause allowed under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act. The BBC declined to release details of the meetings under the exemption granted to it to protect its journalism operations.