Category Archives: Mental Health

Patients still make enquiries at busiest hours, despite 24/7 online access

· University of Warwick publishes first independent evaluation of one of the main providers of online consultation platforms

· Targeting services at younger patients and those with general administrative enquiries could be most effective

· “In reality, patients were seeking access to health care at the same times and for the same sort of problems than they did using traditional routes.” Says supervising author.

Patients are using online consultations in the same way they would arrange a consultation via traditional means, a new independent evaluation by the University of Warwick reveals.

Despite this, the study identifies several opportunities to tailor online platforms to specific patient requirements and improve their experience.

Primary care researchers from Warwick Medical School have today (26 March) published the first independent evaluation of one of the main providers of online consultation platforms in NHS general practice. Published in the British Journal of General Practice, it provides independently analysed information on the types of patients that are using online triage systems, how and when patients are using this platform, and what they think of it.

Online triage is a system in which patients describe their problems via an online form and subsequently are telephoned by a GP to conduct a telephone consultation or arrange a face-to-face consultation. Practices aim to respond within one hour of receiving the request.

The researchers examined routine information from 5140 patients at nine general practices using the askmyGP platform over a 10 week period. Highest levels of use were between 8 am and 10 am on weekdays (at their highest on Mondays and Tuesdays) and 8 pm and 10 pm at weekends, mirroring the busiest time for patients contacting their practice via telephone.

Supervising author Dr Helen Atherton, from Warwick Medical School, said: “With online platforms there is an assumption that having a 24/7 ability to make contact with a general practice will cater to those who wish to deal with their health problem at a convenient time, often when the practice is shut, and that being online means they will perhaps share different problems than they would over the telephone or face-to-face.

“In reality, patients were seeking access to health care at the same times and for the same sort of problems than they did using traditional routes. This suggests that patients’ consulting behaviour will not be easily changed by introducing online platforms. Therefore practices should be clear as to exactly why they are introducing these online platforms, and what they want to achieve for themselves and their patients in doing so – the expectation may well not meet reality.”

The NHS Long term plan sets out that over the next five years all patients will have the right to online ‘digital’ GP consultations. The main way these are being delivered is via online consultation platforms. The online platforms claim to offer patients greater convenience and better access and to save time and workload for GPs, however there is currently a lack of independent evidence about their impact on patient care and care delivery.

Patient feedback analysed as part of the study showed that many found the askmyGP system convenient and said that it gave them the opportunity to describe their symptoms fully, whilst others were less satisfied, with their views often depending on how easily they can normally get access to their practice, and on the specific problem they are reporting.

The study found that two thirds of users were female and almost a quarter were aged between 25 and 34, corroborating existing evidence. The commonest reason for using the service was to enquire about medication, followed by administrative requests and reporting specific symptoms, with skin conditions, ear nose and throat queries and musculoskeletal problems leading the list.

The researchers argue that practices should avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach to implementing online consultations and should tailor them to suit their practice populations and model of access, considering whether it is likely to add value for their patient population.

Dr Atherton adds: “Individual online consultation platforms are uniform in their approach, patients are not. We found that patient satisfaction is context specific – online consultation is not going to be suitable for all patients and with all conditions and that one approach is unlikely to work for everyone.

“Practices could focus on encouraging people to deal with administrative issues using the platform to free up phone lines for other patients. It could be promoted specifically to younger patients, or those who prefer to write about their problems and not to use the telephone. Clear information for patients and a better understanding of their needs is required to capture the potential benefits of this technology.”

· ‘Patient use of an online triage platform; a mixed-methods retrospective exploration in UK primary care’ published in the British Journal of General Practice, DOI: 10.3399/bjgp19X702197

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Responding to the Health Secretary’s pledge to overhaul mental health and wellbeing services for NHS staff following the launch of a Health Education England review, BMA mental health policy lead, Dr Andrew Molodynski, said:

“Staff are fundamental to the delivery of patient care in the NHS and without a healthy workforce our health service can barely function, let alone thrive.

“Given the current pressures that the NHS workforce is under, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s commitment to improving mental health and wellbeing support for staff is both timely and necessary.

“We know that doctors’ mental health and wellbeing has been adversely affected by the increasing demands of their work and this is true also for medical students who are dealing with stress, fatigue and exposure to traumatic clinical situations, very often without adequate support on hand.

“The BMA recently for greater provision of mental health support for NHS staff as their report¹ found that only about half of doctors were aware of any services that help them with physical and mental health problems at their workplace – while one in five respondents said that no support services are provided.

“While these measures will go a long way to providing much-needed support for NHS workers who are struggling with their mental health and overall wellbeing, more must be done to address the wider pressures on the system, such as underfunding, workforce shortages and rising patient demand, so we can reduce the number needing to seek help in the first place.”

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  1. Response to the concerns we have expressed on the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill. As my colleague stated (6 and 7), we cannot take our eyes off the ball on this. The Chair of the Relatives and Residents is an SHA member and some of you may have heard her speak at meetings/conferences our organisation either ran or was part of:


  1. I reproduce here the Noble Baroness Thornton’s Speech on the above resolution:-


  1. VOLUME 7904 – COLUMN 596 “My Lords, I feel sorry for the Minister that after so much agreement we are now criticising the Bill. However, the reason we have reached a happier state than the one we started off in in July is due to the work of a great many people, including the Minister and the Bill team.

I have put my name to several amendments in this group—I support my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, in what they have said—and I shall speak to Amendments 143A and 147A.

In a way, the amendments are part of what should have happened before the Bill reached us; that is exactly right. It is important to note that a coalition of organisations is concerned about what is and is not in the Bill and how it will be implemented. For the record, we have discussed the Bill with at least 44 organisations in the very short time we have had to consider it. They include Mind, the Alzheimer’s Society, Liberty, Learning Disability England, Disability Rights UK, the Relatives & Residents Association, the Care Provider Alliance, VODG—the voluntary sector’s disability group—and many others. We must pay credit to both them and the noble Lords who have worked so hard on this for the fact that we have to come to a point where the Bill has significantly changed and been improved.

Echoing what my noble friend said, the amendments ask that the revised codes of practice for the Mental Capacity Act take account of Schedule 1 to the Bill and, prior to the provisions in the Act coming into force, that the code be revised by statutory instrument using the “made affirmative” procedure. Amendment 143A states:

“Before any provisions of this Act other than those which come into force on its passing come into force … the Secretary of State must publish a report detailing which of the provisions of the Act will be consulted on, by whom and by when … publish his or her consideration of the conclusions of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act … conduct further consultation with vulnerable people, families, charities, providers … publish an equality impact assessment on the impact of the provisions of this Act”.

I would like the Minister to say that the Government have done the equality impact assessment but I have missed it somehow. However, it seems that the Government are duty-bound to consider the impact on people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act. An equality impact assessment is the established way of the Government showing that they have considered the impact on vulnerable groups. That Act begs that this process should have been gone through in preparation for the Bill. I hope that a full equality impact assessment will be conducted and made available to the Commons when it considers the Bill.”

  1. The Following is part of the Response of the Noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care, relating specifically to Amendment 143A standing in the name of the Noble Baroness Thornton previously circulated.


  1. VOLUME 794 – COLUMN 599. “Amendments 143A and 147A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, would require the Government, before the new system could come into force, to conduct public consultation on the Act with vulnerable people and other stakeholders and publish a report on its findings, as well as to publish their response to the Mental Health Act review and an equality impact assessment. I hope that I have dealt with the issue of public consultation, as well as consultation on the code and, equally, on the Mental Health Act review. The noble Baroness is quite right to bring the equality impact assessment to the House’s attention. It was prepared prior to introduction and required amendment following input from the Welsh Government. It will now need to be amended further to reflect the changes made in the Bill. I can commit to publishing the equality impact assessment before the Bill makes it to the Commons so that there will be ample time for consideration before it is debated there.”
  2. Following the Noble Lords response Amendment 143A was not moved, but not withdrawn as other motions had been.


  1. I respectfully suggest that we and our counterparts/cosignatories cannot not take our eye off the ball. It is my experience that information can be changed or lost in the plethora of legalise wording of legislation.




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SHA Wales



Health and Social Care Briefing


Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018

The Act makes provision for a new statutory framework for supporting children and young people with additional learning needs. This is to replace existing legislation surrounding special educational needs and the assessment of children and young people with learning difficulties and / or disabilities in post-16 education and training.

The Act also continues the existence of the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales and provides for children, their parents and young people to appeal to it against decisions made in relation to their or their child’s additional learning needs, but renames it the Education Tribunal for Wales

The Bill was introduced on 12 December 2016. Royal Assent was given on 24 January 2018.

Abolition of the Right to Buy and Associated Rights (Wales) Act

According to the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the Act, the purpose and intended effect of the Act is to end all variations of the Right to Buy and the Right to Acquire.

The key purposes of the Act are to:

  • abolish the right of eligible secure tenants to buy their home at a discount under Part 5 of the Housing Act 1985 (Right to Buy);
  • abolish the preserved right of eligible former secure tenants to buy their home at a discount under section 171A of the Housing Act 1985 (Preserved Right to Buy);
  • abolish the right of eligible assured or secure tenants of a registered social landlord or private registered provider to acquire their home at a discount under section 16 of the Housing Act 1996 (Right to Acquire);
  • encourage social landlords to build or acquire new homes for rent, the Right to Buy, Preserved Right to Buy and Right to Acquire will not be exercisable by tenants who move into new social housing stock more than two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent, subject to certain exceptions;
  • provide for at least one year after the Bill receives Royal Assent before the abolition of the Right to Buy, Preserved Right to Buy and Right to Acquire for existing social housing stock comes into force.

Further detail about the Act can be found in its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Bill was introduced on 13 March 2017. Royal Assent was given on 24 January 2018.

Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) Wales Act

The Act provides for a minimum price for the sale and supply of alcohol in Wales by certain persons and makes it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below that price.

The Act includes provision for:

  • the formula for calculating the applicable minimum price for alcohol by multiplying the percentage strength of the alcohol, its volume and the minimum unit price (MUP);
  • powers for Welsh Ministers to make subordinate legislation to specify the MUP;
  • the establishment of a local authority-led enforcement regime with powers to bring prosecutions;
  • powers of entry for authorised officers of a local authority, an offence of obstructing an authorised officer and the power to issue fixed penalty notices (FPNs)

The Act proposes the MUP would be specified in regulations. However, for the purpose of assessing impacts and the associated costs and benefits, the Explanatory Memorandum uses a 50p MUP as an example.

The Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Act became law in Wales on the 9th of August 2018.

Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Act

The purpose of the Act is to amend or remove those powers which are deemed by the Office for National Statistics (“ONS”) to demonstrate central and local government control over Registered Social Landlords (RSLs).

These changes will enable the ONS to consider reclassifying RSLs as private sector organisations for the purpose of national accounts and other ONS economic statistics.

Further detail about the Act can be found in its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Act 2018 became law in Wales on the 13th of June 2018.

Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018

A Government Emergency Bill, introduced by Mark Drakeford AM, Cabinet Secretary for Finance. An Emergency Bill is a Government Bill that needs to be enacted more quickly than the Assembly’s usual four stage legislative process allows. A definition of an Emergency Bill is not provided in the Government of Wales Act 2006 (“the 2006 Act”) or in the Assembly’s Standing Orders however Standing Order 26.95 states that:

“If it appears to a member of the government that an Emergency Bill is required, he or she may by motion propose that a government Bill, to be introduced in the Assembly, be treated as a government Emergency Bill.”

As with all Assembly Bills, Emergency Bills must relate to one or more of the 21 Subjects contained in Schedule 7 to the 2006 Act in order for it to be within the scope of the Assembly’s legislative powers.

The Act is intended to preserve EU law covering subjects devolved to Wales on withdrawal of the UK from the EU. Further, it will enable the Welsh Ministers to ensure that legislation covering these subjects works effectively after the UK leaves the EU and the European Communities Act 1972 is repealed by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

The Act enables the Welsh Ministers to legislate to maintain regulatory alignment with the EU in order to facilitate continued access to the EU market for Welsh Businesses. It also creates a default position in law whereby the consent of the Welsh Ministers will be required before any changes are made by UK Ministers to devolved legislation within the scope of EU law.

Further detail about the Bill can be found in its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018 became law in Wales on 6 June 2018.

Legislation in Progress – current Bills

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill

This is a Committee Bill, introduced by Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee. The Business Committee has remitted the Bill to the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. The Bill includes provision which set out the new powers for the Ombudsman to:

  • accept oral complaints
  • undertake own initiative investigations
  • investigate private medical treatment including nursing care in a public/private health pathway
  • undertake a role in relation to complaints handling standards and procedures


Further detail about the Bill can be found in its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum. The Bill is currently at stage 2.

Autism (Wales) Bill

An Assembly Member Bill, introduced by Paul Davies AM was successful in a legislative ballot in March 2017, and given leave to proceed with his Bill by the Assembly in June 2017.

The Business Committee has remitted the Bill to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.

The overall purpose of the Bill is to ensure the needs of children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Wales are met, and to protect and promote their rights.  The Bill delivers this purpose by seeking to:

  • Introduce a strategy for meeting the needs of children and adults in Wales with ASD conditions which will:
    • Promote best practice in diagnosing ASD, and assessing and planning for meeting care needs;
    • Ensure a clear and consistent pathway to diagnosis of ASD in local areas;
    • Ensure that local authorities and NHS bodies take necessary action so that children and adults with ASD receive the timely diagnosis and support they need across a range of services;
    • Strengthen support for families and carers and ensure their wishes, and those of people with ASD, are taken into account;
    • Promote research, innovation and improvement in ASD Services;
    • Establish practices to enable the collection of reliable and relevant data on the numbers and needs of children and adults with ASD, so that the Welsh Ministers, and local and NHS bodies can plan accordingly;
    • Ensure key staff working with people with ASD are provided with appropriate ASD training; and
    • Regularly review the strategy and guidance to ensure progress.
  • Require the Welsh Ministers to issue guidance to the relevant bodies on implementing the strategy.
  • Require the Welsh Ministers to collect suitable data to facilitate the implementation of the Bill.
  • Require the Welsh Ministers to undertake a campaign to raise awareness and understanding of ASD.

Further detail about the Bill can be found in its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Bill is currently at stage 1 (consideration of the general principles of the Bill and the agreement of the Assembly to those principles).

Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill

A Welsh Government Bill, introduced by Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care. The Business Committee has remitted the Bill to the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

The Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill (“the Bill”) gives the Welsh Ministers the power to provide funding for childcare for qualifying children of working parents and to make regulations about the arrangements for administering and operating such funding.

The Bill is intended to facilitate the delivery of a key commitment in the Welsh Labour manifesto ‘Together for Wales 2016’. This is to provide 30 hours per week of government funded early education and childcare to the working parents of three and four year olds in Wales for up to 48 weeks per year (this is referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the Bill as ‘the Offer’).

All eligible 3 and 4-year-old children (from the term after their third birthday) are entitled to a minimum of 10 hours early education per week during term time over 39 weeks of the year. The Offer builds on this universal entitlement and provides up to a total of 30 hours early education and care per week over 48 weeks of the year for the 3 and 4 year olds of working parents.

The Bill relates to the childcare element of the Offer and is therefore concerned with the funding that will be provided in respect of the eligible children of working parents.

Further detail about the Bill can be found in its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Bill is currently at stage 1 (consideration of the general principles of the Bill and the agreement of the Assembly to those principles).

Renting Homes (Fees etc…) Wales Bill

A Welsh Government Bill, introduced by Rebecca Evans AM, Minister for Housing and Regeneration. The Business Committee has remitted the Bill to the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.

The Bill includes provision for:

  • prohibiting certain payments made in connection with the granting, renewal or continuance of standard occupation contracts;
  • the treatment of holding deposits.

Further detail about the Bill can be found in its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Bill is currently at stage 1 (consideration of the general principles of the Bill and the agreement of the Assembly to those principles).

Future and possible Bills (of interest)

Assembly members have voted to introduce a Welsh Parliament and Elections Bill due to be brought forward in early 2019. The Bill will be designed to change the name of the Assembly to Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament; lower the voting age for Assembly elections to 16; amend the law relating to disqualification from being an Assembly Member and make other changes to the Assembly’s electoral and internal arrangements.

In the statement on forthcoming legislation 2018/19, the First Minister highlighted:

  • A Bill to remove the defence of reasonable punishment
  • A Bill to improve accessibility of Welsh Law and how it is interpreted
  • A Local Government Bill (lowering the age for elections and a range of other proposals – not ‘wholescale merger’)
  • A Bill to establish an Duty of Quality for the NHS and a Duty of Candour for Health and Social Care, introduce and establish a new independent body to represent the citizen’s voice in health and social care services and will require LHBs to appoint a Vice Chair
  • Ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses

Updated October 2018

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Tuesday morning was the launch of the Resolution Foundation report, Healthy finances? Options for funding an NHS spending increase – a response to the rumoured government “birthday present” for the NHS as it turns 70 on 5 July 2018.

The audience included party advisers (I spotted a Whatsapp group chat for a party’s comms team), people from various think-tanks, academics (including an Emeritus Professor from Imperial who had a lot to say), and a representative from at least one (non-militant, at least in the room) campaigning group.

The line up:

  • Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health Select Committee and medic who worked as a GP up until 2010. (Given her generally sensible views, I keep having to remind myself that she’s a Tory).
  • Jon Ashworth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, who has a long history as a Labour professional, including as Special Adviser in the Treasury for Gordon Brown.
  • Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI and fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.
  • Matt Whittaker, Deputy Director at the Resolution Foundation, who previously worked for the House of Commons Library where he provided stats and economics advice.

The event was chaired by Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, former adviser to Ed Miliband (and, incidentally, architect of the Ed Stone).

Interlude: What is the Resolution Foundation?

The launch was set at Resolution HQ in a bright, wide room, with cosy luxurious seats which wouldn’t be out of place in an up-market indie cinema, so I was curious who they are and how it’s all funded.

Resolution Foundation’s website describes it as “a non-partisan and award-winning think-tank that works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes.” In their most recent annual report, they defined “low to middle” as those in income deciles 2 to 5, whom they say are overlooked in policy debates. Their focus is on working households.

They receive most of their funding via donations from Resolution Trust, founded by Clive Cowdery with a £50m donation, “believed to be one of the largest endowments for public policy research made in the UK”.

Cowdery made his wealth from “sponsoring insurance vehicles” (an FT article says more) and is also founder of financial services investment firm called (again) Resolution.

Resolution Trust backs Prospect Magazine and, intriguingly, WorkerTech, which seems to be about encouraging alternatives to trade unions for the precarious world of Uberified work. (Here are slides from its launch.)

What did they say on health funding?

All agreed that the NHS needs more funding, so the question is how much more funding and where the money is coming from. The issue was framed as a tug-of-war between Treasury and Jeremy Hunt (with Hunt wanting more money, in case not clear – it’s not always obvious), constrained by a complex parliament and a wish to keep voters happy.

Matt Whitaker took us through some headlines from the Resolution report, emphasising that it was a prediction of what the government was likely to announce rather than what it should do. (Though it sounded very much like advice.)

Borrowing was seen as likely necessary, so long as the total was below 2% of the projected GDP in 2020-21 (to meet a Tory fiscal target). But borrowing alone would not suffice, so some sort of tax raise is almost certainly on the cards – the problem is how to keep keep Tory voters and donors on side, whilst getting it through parliament.

One possibility is increasing National Insurance contributions (or NICs, pronounced “nicks”), which Gordon Brown did when he was chancellor. This is a progressive tax for workers; however, increased NICs was seen by the report authors as “unfair from a generational perspective” since older people who rely more on healthcare don’t pay national insurance (this generational perspective might need some analysis). A solution proposed was to extend NICs to include those above state pension age who are still working.

Increasing income tax could be another way to get the money. LibDems and SNP might support this, and Scotland recently introduced a change to its tax bands meaning some pay more and others pay less tax. Labour, the authors argue, would likely oppose increases for anyone earning under £80k and some Tory MPs might oppose too.

Another approach suggested was to adjust thresholds for (i) when income tax is payable and (ii) the higher rate of payment. Threshold changes were Tory manifesto promises, but the authors suggest a fiddle (p. 24):

“An alternative approach would be to lift the Income Tax thresholds to those pledged in the manifesto in 2020-21, but to freeze both them and the NICs thresholds in the final two years of the parliament. This would of course cost money in 2020-21, but by 2022-23 it would raise £3.7 billion relative to the default of uprating in line with inflation every year.”

Another promising source of funding would come from reversing George Osborne’s 2016 pledge to cut corporation tax by 2020. This tax uncut could provide £5.2 billion in 2020-21 and £5.7 billion by 2022-23. Other political parties would likely support the move and the authors argue (p. 27):

“The Chancellor might also feel emboldened to act given the way in which the estimated costings of the move from 19 per cent to 17 per cent have shifted since George Osborne first announced it.”

Remarkably little was said about Brexit. Will it torpedo all the projections and render the suggestions (sorry, predictions?) unimplementable? The exception was Sarah Wollaston, who noted that she never believed the infamous £350m bus claim; she expressed reasonable worries about the effects Brexit would have.

What might more money mean for mental health?

Although the focus was very much top-level – where’s the money? – speakers did say a little about how it should be spent. For instance, Jon Ashworth quoted numbers on additional doctors and nurses required (it’s thousands), citing a report from IFS – also cited by Sarah Wollaston.

Reassuringly, mental healthcare was mentioned a few times as being important and in need of improvement (though note the history of “warm words”). Ben Page cited public support for increased spending, with mental health being second on the list in an April Ipsos MORI survey of priorities, after Accident and Emergency. Jon Ashworth mentioned improving support for addictions, in particular.

Sarah Wollaston cited the Health and Social Care Committee’s report into integrated care, published yesterday, which discusses detailed contractual changes needed to improve how, e.g., mental healthcare integrates with other services, including discussion of accountable care organisations (ACOs). (Perusing this report just now highlights how difficult it is to have public debates on these issues – it’s technical stuff.)

The coming weeks as we approach July 5th would be a good time to campaign for key specifics on how much money mental healthcare should receive and what it should be spent on. If the NHS received £20 billion more in 2022-23, how much should go to mental health and where?

First published on Andy Fugard’s blog


Mean societies produce mean people

Babies haven’t changed much for millennia. Give or take a few enzymes this perfectly designed little bundle of desires and interests has not needed to evolve much. Of all primates, the human is the most immature at birth, after which brain growth accelerates and is ‘wired’ according to the kinds of experience the infant has. Provided there are a few familiar and affectionate people there to care continuously for him or her, baby will be fine. If not, evolution has taken care of that too. You live in a cruel world and treat him roughly? He will develop into a compulsively self-reliant and ruthless individual with little concern for others. Mean societies produce mean people. Through attentive care in the early years we may hope to produce thoughtful, curious and confident young people but our social arrangements are essentially hostile and competitive. Having a baby is regarded as an expensive undertaking rather than as a contribution to the future of society.

Encouraged by successive governments our world is geared to markets. “It’s the economy, stupid” means you can’t do anything without considering the immediate cost. The more this idea takes hold the stupider we become. The current government’s dedication to continuous welfare cuts hits children disproportionately. Neoliberalism is the enemy of children.

Evolutionary imperatives

This is not the environment in which humans evolved. An infant in a hunter-gatherer band – the way we all lived for 99% of our time on the planet – would have spent many hours being held, and not only by the mother. “Infants with several attachment figures grow up better able to integrate multiple mental perspectives”. We are programmed from the start to seek out third positions, to acquire the “capacity for seeing ourselves in interaction with others and for entertaining another point of view whilst retaining our own, for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves.”

Systematic comparisons between sedentary foraging and farming people living now in neighbouring parts of the Congo basin show how much more egalitarian the foragers are. Men and women see themselves as equal. They hold and converse with their tiny children more intensively, they let the baby decide when to wean and teach them to share from an early age. Violence is rare, though teasing is common. Such children are more socialised than in the west and at the same time protected from catastrophe in the event of the mother’s death. Amongst the farmers, in contrast, “corporal punishment is not an uncommon response for young children who do not listen to or respect their parents or older siblings”.

In the modern world little public money is available for perinatal services, parental leave, for quality child care and universal education, affordable and secure homes, healthy food, subsidised transport and energy, sports fields, swimming pools, libraries, parks and playgrounds that make rearing children and adolescents more manageable and more successful. Tax, like children, is seen as a ‘burden’. So governments of all parties sign up to reducing it, yet still find money for bank bailouts and unsustainable wars. Whether local or national, tax should be a contribution to the common good, an instrument of social justice. It is collected from citizens, for citizens. In the current climate this equation is neither acknowledged nor understood. Yet something has been understood that was not clear before. There is a greater recognition that early intervention is a good idea: “the brain can be sculpted by experience”; the sooner the better.

Start at the beginning

When a woman becomes pregnant her physical and mental states impact on her child. From conception onwards the health and resilience of children – and the adults they will become – is compromised by stress, diet, maternal weight, drugs, genes and insecurity in their parents. Besides the impact on the mother herself, anxiety and depression during pregnancy and after it have significant long term effects on the child’s physical and mental health – particularly on boys – generating huge social costs. Pregnancy is a dangerous time for some women. The most socially deprived mothers are more likely to have very premature births or perinatal death. Low birthweight leads to poor outcomes; early intervention can reduce that.

Elegant research shows how already by a few months old babies are engaged in triadic relationships; they are affected by tensions between the adults caring for them. When caregivers are uncooperative infants may be “enlisted to serve the parents’ problematic relationship rather than to develop their own social competence”. Children will more likely thrive if caregivers – parents and grandparents, childminders, daycare and children’s centre staff, nursery teachers – get on with one another, like a good team. “Communication between parents and care providers is crucial to the quality of care.”

The routine availability and presence of health visitors and other staff supporting new parents and of Sure Start centres for children and families create the conditions for reliable care of children. In a context of skilled early years provision, infants whose parents are paid to spend time with them in the early months are less likely to die. “A ten week extension in paid leave is predicted to decrease post neonatal mortality rates by 4.1%”. This remarkable finding represents just the tip of an iceberg of developmental damage and pathology, modifiable by intensive early support for families.

Better training and pay for early years staff improves outcomes and reduces turnover. UK needs to learn from continental Europe the tradition of pedagogic professions: proper pay, status and training for the job, particularly when the families most in need are hard to engage. Looking after small children is demanding and stressful, requiring continuous professional development such as reflective discussion groups in which colleagues both support and learn from each other. Work with young families is a professional skill.

Inequality undermines trust

A collaborative partnership between caregivers does not in itself cost money, but is undermined by social disintegration, the most poisonous source of which is rising inequality. In Britain this has reached levels not seen since the 1920s. The much maligned 1970s was actually the most egalitarian in our history. Consider this: one index of social health is the number of boys born in comparison to girls. Because the male fetus is more vulnerable to maternal stress, women produce fewer boys when times are hard. (For example there is a fall in the ratio of boys to girls a few months after disasters such as massive floods or earthquakes, or the terrorist attack on 9/11). In England and Wales the highest ratio of boys to girls occurred in 1975. In terms of contented mothers it was the best of times.

Inequality creates stress in parents who can’t keep up, and anxiety in the better off who fear sliding down. No one is comfortable on a steep slope. It makes all of us less trusting and more averse to communal commitments, such as respecting our neighbours and paying tax. Infant mortality, mental illness, drug abuse, dropping out of education, rates of imprisonment, obesity, teenage births and violence are all higher in unequal countries like ours.

Though often disappointed, our ancient baby is born to expect some kind – a rather conservative kind – of socialism. What will today’s infants be talking about in 2050? If they know any history they will regret lost opportunities; our collective loss of vision that led to wasted generations. The success of the post war consensus was due in part to the fact that it lasted longer than one or two parliamentary terms, so that children could grow up, get educated and housed, find partners, get work and free healthcare without overwhelming instability or despair. The needs of a baby born today are precisely what they were for one born in the 1950s, or 50,000 years ago. New knowledge of infant development is catching up with evolved wisdom, yet we continue to ignore both, and build bigger obstacles to secure attachments.


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‘U-turn’, ‘Fiasco’, ‘Chaos’ – Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has been back in the news at the start of 2018 and the headlines don’t make good reading for the government. Back in March 2017, the government changed the eligibility criteria for the mobility component of PIP to exclude claimants experiencing ‘psychological distress’ from receiving the enhanced rate of the benefit. However, the High Court found that the government’s amendments ‘were blatantly discriminatory against those with mental health impairments and cannot be objectively justified, and concluded that ‘the wish to save nearly £1 billion a year at the expense of those with mental health impairments is not a reasonable foundation for passing this measure.’

The government decided not to challenge the High Court’s decision and now need to undertake a review of 1.6 million claims made for PIP over the last four years at an estimated cost of £3.7bn. It is understood that the review could take up to five years and result in 220,000 claimants receiving higher awards. What, then, does this recent development tell us about the adjudication of disability benefits for people with mental health problems? More broadly, what does it tell us about the ideology and administration that underpins PIP?

Personal Independence Payments and mental health

PIP was launched by the coalition government in April 2013 and was intended to assist claimants of working age with the costs associated with disability or long-term health conditions. The government argued that by replacing Disability Living Allowance, PIP would provide more targeted support for those in genuine need with decisions based on medical evidence. Initially, it was anticipated that the full roll-out of PIP would result in 600,000 fewer disability benefit claimants and annual savings of £2.5 billion. Analysis shows there are likely to be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ from the new PIP regime, but this is difficult to accurately assess because the government has changed the timescales for its implementation and the standards for qualification.

The uncertainties created by the transition to PIP are a real issue for many people with mental health problems. It is not unreasonable for someone with mental health problems to ask, ‘Am I likely to get PIP?’ or ‘When will I have to go for a PIP assessment?’ At the moment, the system is so fraught with uncertainties and inconsistencies that these are very difficult questions to answer. And surely the whole point of a social security system is to provide some security for claimants.

I am in the early stages of a research project exploring the impact of the rollout of PIP and claimants with mental health problems have repeatedly told me that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the unpredictability of the system. Consider the following timeline of events over the last 12 months:

  • 23 February 2017: Department for Work and Pensions lays regulations before parliament that amend the eligibility criteria for the mobility component of PIP for those unable to undertake journeys due to psychological distress. It is estimated that this change would result in nearly 300,000 people no longer being entitled to the mobility part of PIP and will affect people with a range of conditions including schizophrenia and anxiety conditions. The government state that this amendment is necessary to restore the original aims of PIP.
  • 21 December 2017: The High Court found that the government’s amendments amount to direct discrimination against those with mental health impairments and the policy intention to save money was based on an untestable hypothesis about levels of need.
  • 19 January 2018: New Department for Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey states that the government will not challenge the High Court decision and a review of 1.6 million claims for PIP will be undertaken.

A charitable view of this timeline would be of the government and judiciary applying scrutiny to a new benefit in order to get things right. However, the impact on claimants, particularly those with mental health problems, is often damaging. Not surprisingly, the second independent review of PIP completed by Social Security Advisory Committee chairman Paul Gray and published in March 2017 described an ‘inherent distrust’ in the system by claimants. This means that a benefit system which should provide a safety net is, in fact, exacerbating anxiety for those living with mental health problems.

Criticism of the UK disability benefits system has also come from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which found in 2016 that ‘there is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met in the State party’. The committee recommended that the UK government should improve the administration of disability benefits and make it more accessible for disabled people.

Delayed implementation and chaotic administration

It should be acknowledged that designing and administering a disability benefit is not an easy task and this is underscored by the fact that few other countries have a comparable benefit to PIP. The eligibility criteria for PIP focuses on claimant’s ‘limited ability’ in relation to mobility and a range of daily living activities. This, in itself, seems reasonable, but as with all social security, the devil is in the details. Unfortunately, with PIP, the details seem to have focused on saving money and reducing the number of claimants.

The government appear to have overlooked the fact that the needs of disabled people don’t vanish because tighter benefit rules are introduced. This is important as the concessions that the government have been pressed into making are largely because claimants and disability campaigners have been able to clearly demonstrate (often through the tribunal and court system) that significant elements of PIP are not fit for purpose. An ill-conceived policy that seeks to save money invariably ends with compromise and additional cost that was not initially intended. It will be interesting to see to what extent the government’s initial forecast in terms of expected savings and number of claimants has changed once its review of PIP claims is complete.

The government’s intention was that PIP would create a more fair and objective assessment of need. However, from the early stages of the rollout of this benefit, there has been intense criticism of the assessment and adjudication process. Early concerns were voiced by the National Audit Office and the Work and Pensions Committee about unacceptable delays in the decision-making process. While there have been some improvements in this area, the second Gray review of PIP found that administrative processes need to be significantly improved. This should include improvements to the way evidence is obtained and the need ‘to broaden audit and quality assurance in assessment and decision-making.’ For many claimants, the experience of the PIP assessment process can be as damaging as the final decision that is made, with many reporting cancelled appointments, rushed assessments and a lack of understanding of individual conditions and resulting need. As with other areas of policy, the appropriateness of the involvement of private contractors (ATOS and Capita) has been questioned.

We should also recognise that public and judicial pressure are not the only reasons for the government U-turn on PIP. The challenges that the government face with the Brexit negotiations mean they must choose their domestic battles wisely and it seems that a fight over PIP was a step too far for Theresa May. (Remember, this is a Prime Minister who chose social justice as one of the central themes of her maiden speech.) While campaigners and social policy academics will rightly welcome the government climb-down on PIP, we must not forget that this creates yet more uncertainty for disability benefit claimants. Rather than a system underpinned by a fiscally-driven ideology, shaped by short-term political considerations and delivered in a chaotic manner, what we really need is a ‘real-world assessment’ of disability and a benefit which appropriately meets the needs of claimants.

First published by the Social Policy Association

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In recent years we have made great strides in the UK, not only tackling the stigma around mental illness but have also seen the issue of mental health rise to the top of the political agenda. In June 2012, Charles Walker MP and I both spoke in parliament about our personal experiences of mental illness, something which at the time was seen as groundbreaking. I am pleased that people from all walks of life have spoken about their experiences since then, adding to the debate to ensure that mental illness is no longer seen as the taboo it once was. Campaigns such as Time for Change and the work done by mental health charities have also made a real difference in changing attitudes. So, if we are winning the battle against the stigma around mental illness, what should the next steps be?

Firstly, we need to hardwire mental health and mental wellbeing into policy-making and secondly, we need to make the economic case for good mental health.

In response to the increased debate on mental health, the government established an independent mental health task force in 2015, which was widely welcomed and resulted in the NHS Five Year Forward View for mental health. Its plans are ambitious, but success will depend on resources and the buy-in from the various actors in a fragmented National Health Service. Only time will tell if this well intentioned policy bears fruit, but a more fundamental change across government in policy-making is needed.

All new government policy, across all departments, should be road-tested against mental health and mental wellbeing objectives. There also needs to be a cabinet committee at the heart of government which has a series of mental health and mental wellbeing tests that policies need to pass before they can be adopted. This would embed mental health and mental wellbeing into the policy-making process throughout Whitehall.

Clearly this is not happening now. You only have to look at the roll out of personal independent payment to see this. Mind – the mental health charity – found that 55 per cent of those surveyed with mental health conditions lost all entitlement or had their benefits reduced, and 22 per cent felt unable to appeal against the decision. I know from speaking to my constituents that the main problem is that those assessing claimants have little or no knowledge of dealing with people with mental health conditions. The result is a system aimed at supporting some of the most vulnerable in our society, making the situation worse for them and possibly leading to increased costs for the NHS because of individuals’ mental health deteriorating. If this policy had been tested for its suitability to meet the needs of those with mental health conditions we could have avoided much of the distress and anguish caused to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Having such a system at the centre of government would ensure that mental health and mental wellbeing would be at the heart of departmental policy-making, turning many well intentioned words into meaningful action.

At a time of austerity, why is change needed? The answer is simple – it makes economic sense too. In the debate around mental health and mental wellbeing the economic case is one which often only gets a passing reference. Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer’s excellent report Thriving to Work dramatically sets out the case for why good mental health is important to the UK economy. It found that the cost to UK economy of poor mental health is between £74bn and £99bn per year, with an additional cost to government of between £24bn and £27bn per year. The report was commissioned by the government and has several recommendations both for the private and public sector. It recommends the establishment of a mental health employers’ leadership council to drive the implementation of mental health work plans for employers. It also argues for using public procurement as a way of incentivising the adoption of such plans. The public sector employs 5.4m people and provides an opportunity to start the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

Though these proposals are ambitious, with enough political will they can make a real difference. Some will argue that they will be an added burden on business, but if you look at some of those companies already implementing such policies like BT, the economic benefits can already be demonstrated.

With the continued debate about Britain’s future following Brexit there are those who would argue that concentrating on the nation’s mental health is not a priority. But I would argue it is not just the right thing to do for the wellbeing of our citizens, but it is vital for the future of the UK’s economy.

Now is the time to turn all of the well intentioned words on mental health into action.

This first appeared on the Fabian Society’s health network blog


Core principles of the PTM Framework

The Power Threat Meaning Framework is a new perspective on why people sometimes experience a whole range of forms of distress, confusion, fear, despair, and troubled or troubling behaviour. It is an alternative to the more traditional models based on psychiatric diagnosis. It applies not just to people who have been in contact with the mental health or criminal justice systems, but to all of us.

The Framework summarises and integrates a great deal of evidence about the role of various kinds of power in people’s lives; the kinds of threat that misuses of power pose to us; and the ways we have learned as human beings to respond to threat. In traditional mental health practice, these threat responses are sometimes called ‘symptoms’. The Framework also looks at how we make sense of these difficult experiences, and how messages from wider society can increase our feelings of shame, self-blame, isolation, fear and guilt.

The main aspects of the Framework are summarised in these questions, which can apply to individuals, families or social groups:

  • ‘What has happened to you?’ (How is Power operating in your life?)
  • ‘How did it affect you?’ (What kind of Threats does this pose?)
  • ‘What sense did you make of it?’ (What is the Meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
  • ‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What kinds of Threat Response are you using?)

In addition, the two questions below help us to think about what skills and resources people might have, and how we might pull all these ideas and responses together into a personal narrative or story:

  • ‘What are your strengths?’ (What access to Power resources do you have?)
  • ‘What is your story?’ (How does all this fit together?)

Possible uses of the PTM Framework

The Power Threat Meaning Framework can be used as a way of helping people to create more hopeful narratives or stories about their lives and the difficulties they may have faced or are still facing, instead of seeing themselves as blameworthy, weak, deficient or ‘mentally ill’. It highlights the links between wider social factors such as poverty, discrimination and inequality, along with traumas such as abuse and violence, and the resulting emotional distress or troubled behaviour. It also shows why those of us who do not have an obvious history of trauma or adversity can still struggle to find a sense of self-worth, meaning and identity.

The Framework describes the many different strategies people use, from automatic bodily reactions to deliberately-chosen ways of coping with overwhelming emotions, in order to survive and protect themselves and meet their core needs. It suggests a wide range of ways that may help people to move forward. For some people this may be therapy or other standard interventions including, if they help someone to cope, psychiatric drugs. For others, the main needs will be for practical help and resources, perhaps along with peer support, art, music, exercise, nutrition, community activism and so on. Underpinning all this, the Framework offers a new perspective on distress which takes us beyond the individual and shows that we are all part of a wider struggle for a fairer society.

One of the most important aspects of the Framework is the attempt to outline common or typical patterns in the ways people respond to the negative impacts of power – in other words, patterns of meaning-based responses to threat. This part of the Framework, like all of it, is still in a process of development. However, the evidence summarised in the Framework does suggest that there are common ways in which people in a particular culture are likely to respond to certain kinds of threat such as being excluded, rejected, trapped, coerced or shamed. It may be useful to draw on these patterns to help develop people’s personal stories. These general patterns can help to give people a message of acceptance and validation. The patterns can also assist us in designing services that meet people’s real needs, as well as suggesting ways of accessing support, benefits and so on that are not dependent on having a diagnosis.

In addition, the Framework offers a way of thinking about culturally-specific understandings of distress without seeing them through a Western diagnostic model. It encourages respect for the many creative and non-medical ways of supporting people around the world, and the varied forms of narrative and healing practices that are used across cultures.

Taking the PTM Framework further

It is important to note that Power Threat Meaning is an over-arching framework which is not intended to replace all the ways we currently think about and work with distress. Instead, the aim is to support and strengthen the many examples of good practice which already exist, while also suggesting new ways forward.

The Framework has wider implications than therapeutic or clinical work. The main document (link below) suggests how it can offer constructive alternatives in the areas of service design and commissioning, professional training, research, service user involvement and public information. There are also important implications for social policy and the wider role of equality and social justice. It is a work in progress, offered as a resource for any individuals, groups or organisations interested in developing it further.

This link will take you to FAQs; the project documents; a possible ‘Guided discussion’ for one to one work in services or for peer support/self-help; and soon, a video of the main talks from the launch.  Appendices 2-14 in the Overview Document give examples of good practice in various service and non-service settings.

An interview with the lead author is here.

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Yes we need more resources in mental health but not the same old ‘diseased’ bio-psychiatric medical model of mental ‘illness’ and mechanistic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy,  but a social-social public health preventive model of mental distress/health, health workers who firstly tackle the social determinants of health and work amongst the people where the social is not forgotten.

No one is denying the reality of mental distress, also mental distress needs twenty times more resources than at present, but the question is “what type of resources and interventions?” Does anyone ever stop to analysis why mental health issues are occurring. What is the cause that causes the cause to become a cause? Is it diagnosis which is so wide e.g. DSM5, that everyone is now mentally ill?  Is it iatrogenesis? Is it the ideology of austerity? Is it the treatments with so called anti psychotics and anti – depressants? Is it coercive mental health laws?  Is it unfairness, poverty, inequalities? Is it abuse and discrimination? Is it a cruel state, poor working conditions, deregulation and privatization? is it individualising, psychiatrising, psychologising existence so that the social, political, economic, materiality and broad environmental issues conveniently disappear? Is it capitalism, society, which causes so much mental distress? Why are so many people internalising their own oppression, harming themselves? Why not externalise their distress come to voice. There are many people who would like to work in mental health but not one dominated by psychiatry and mechanistic CBT.

Psychiatry is a pseudoscience with a faulty epistemology  and wrong, very wrong, ontology. What is a human being – not just DNA or neurochemical selves. Humans are social beings and how society is socially, economically politically and environmentally (SEPE) arranged influence much including mental health and distress.

Many people who go into the psychiatric system have just normal emotions, reactions to situations, e.g. bullying, all forms of abuse, power-over, lack of autonomy and control, alienation, homelessness, trauma, unfairness and poverty. Many have been drugged (iatrogenesis doctor induced illness) into psychiatric services as Whitaker (2010), clearly and with evidence illustrates over the last sixty years people have been medicalised and damaged.  Psycho-trophic drug giving has ‘sky rocketed’ leading to an explosion of chronic mental health and physical disabling conditions.  Q if the drugs are so good why has chronic mental health conditions increased so much in the last 40 years – madness. No one is denying the reality of mental distress. People suffer suffering is not an illness. Psychiatry is a marriage of convenience with neo-liberalism, big pharm, corporations, governance (control of the populace) – a form of ideological hegemonic power.

Surely all the children in USA/UK now medicalised with toxic drugs aren’t all mad? Did the children ask for these drugs? Do all women and the poor placed in institutions by husbands, families consider themselves mad, are all the Jews exterminated by German psychiatrists in T4 camps did they consider themselves mad? Are all BME groups labelled and tortured by psychiatry would they consider themselves mad?  The Soviet dissidents tortured in Russian and sent to gulags would they consider themselves mad? Are all the people getting on in years and particularly women given electric shock at alarming increasing rates are these people mad?

When you listen to people who have experienced abuse, rape, power-over, poverty, trauma including psychiatric trauma and psychiatric rape, experienced a cruel state, would they consider themselves mad? Maybe nearly driven mad but that’s another issue.

What can be called mad is a biological and genetical, nonsense aetiology which still prevails. When in the 21 st century today’s scientists are aware of epi-genetics and that genes get switched on and off and are influenced by social economic political broad environmental  issues including poor diet. The genome studies again have found no conclusive findings for biological explanations for mental distress.  Mad is the four ideological myths of psychiatry (chemical imbalance, 1960’s marketed drug ‘illness model of drug action, pseudoscience of diagnosis, biological biomarker myth) and the reality of coercion and iatrogenic mad practices. Another madness is the invention of illness DSM and all classifications, fabrications of psychiatry. Thinking that psycho-trophic drugs will cure mental distress is another madness. Nor providing the social determinants and the prerequisites for health and wellbeing is mad also really a crime against humanity. Psychiatry is a crime an industry of death.

Some people  state it is  naïve to want to abolish psychiatry without putting something in its place  – to abolish psychiatry is a necessary prerequisite for change and it is naïve not to want to do this. Replace it with more doctors of medicine MD’s, they are trained to deal with health problems – adopt a new approach to mental health, a public health approach, adopt community preventative medicine, not dualistic but holistic including changes in SEPE – increase resources for mental distress twenty times fold – not less resources but more. Have a 100% state funded NHS, have no private provision in NHS, have a national work occupation health service in all organisations to promote health and reduce mental distress. But don’t have a national sickness service have a health service.  More up – stream public health measures preventing and enhancing health, a more just society, reduce relative income differences, introduce a universal wage. There are numerous alternatives – open dialogue, exercise, social solidarity, Hearing Voices Network, peer groups, Sorteria houses, dial house in Leeds, activity for life, retreats, safe spaces, quiet spaces, night cafes, more social engagement, better healthy workplaces promoting autonomy control and income and so on. Adopt a social model of health and mental distress tackle alienation. Just stop abuse. Maybe social transformative change has to occur before psychiatry is abolished? Just think if annoyed, angry, discontented, irritable, unhappy, grief stricken, miserable people, put upon people, people disadvantaged, ‘down depressed’ people, agitated people, traumatised people, abused people, decided to use this energy as a catalyst joining alliances to change things, demand a less abusive fairer society, that would upset the status quo.

This author acknowledges the reality of serious mental distress which needs resources but the crucial question is what type of resources. It also acknowledges that some people are happy with present day mental health services and drugs but others are not. Many people are trapped and damaged by the drug regime.

If you get rid of the ideology of psychiatry and psychiatry itself, there will be less stigma more possibilities. One can easily make a case that capitalist society  makes you mad – isn’t education mad, testing children, pressurising children, labelling children – too much I.T  and  social media pressure, too much computer time, sedentary children inducing future public health ‘time-bombs’-  isn’t this madness?

These are not just issues of the past. They are happening now and will happen in the future if psychiatry isn’t abolished. We are drugging people and damaging them, some drug use will still be required, there is a role but use the correct drug induced model of drug action, be truthful with people and use drugs with extreme caution and only mainly short term. Electric shock, psycho-prisons, Community Treatment Orders, harmful mental health laws are still used. Human rights violations are very much still rampant. So who is mad? Surely not the people, surely not children and the poor,  not the politically constructed ‘race’ people.  It isn’t psychiatric neglect but SEPE neglect, social justice neglect, materiality, power and resources neglect and psychiatric abuse. It is also an abuse that there is very little resources for mental distress but these are decisions made by people in power with vested interests in the status quo. Just think how much money we could save without a pill for ever ill. Just think how many people could be saved from chronic disabling mental health conditions, how many children could be saved. This money could be used in mental health on alternative schemes and up –stream public health to prevent health problems.

Here is the crux many people have a vested interest in psychiatry, and the psych industry unfortunately they are also very powerful in a neo-liberal state and the ideology of individualism, a form of social control and it’s an ideal way to make profits.

One person with a similar aim and viewpoint – Bonny Burstow (2015) her latest excellent book Psychiatry the Business of Madness: an epistemological and ethical audit advocates an abolitionist approach.

Revision after consulting the public in four workshops and 14 discussion groups  have recently  come up with a manifesto for change which will be launched in 2017

Revisions Manifesto’s seven visions for change:

  1. To move from a ‘diseased’ bio-psychiatric model of ‘mental illness’ to a social model of mental distress/health. We need for a different approach ‘grounded’ in social fairness, listening, equity and social justice.
  2. To  stop using all psychiatric diagnostic and classification systems
  3. To recognise what we need to achieve good mental health :
    1.  Income, family, friendships, a safe home, opportunity, work, leisure, the arts, spirituality – plus many more which should be defined by individuals and communities themselves.
    2. Recognise oppression in all its forms and develop strategies to combat these at the individual and structural level.
  4. To understand that medication does not and cannot ‘cure’ mental distress.
  5. To work towards socially orientated and democratically accountable types of mental health service provision.
  6. To stop coercion – abolish Community Treatment Orders, ban electroconvulsive therapy  and urgently review all mental health laws.
  7. To challenge the current crude neo-liberal economic system that creates a fertile environment for ever increasing mental distress.

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Socialist Health Association’s motion to the Young Labour Policy Conference:

Young Labour notes:

  1. Self harm and suicide have continued to rise in the last 20 years, and for young people in the U.K. rates are now among the highest in Europe, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
  2. NHS Providers reported in July that demand for Child and Adolescent Mental Health services rose 44% from 2013 to 2016, far outstripping growth in demand for physical healthcare.
  3. Acute mental health crises are manifestations of emotional distress, and can be seen as a symptom of a often complex mix of difficult personal circumstances, past traumas and social and economic deprivation. It is associated with long term mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse.
  4. There are higher rates of self harm among prisoners, asylum seekers, veterans from the armed forces, people bereaved by suicide, some cultural minority groups and the LGBT community.

Young Labour believes:

  1. The social context of self harm and suicide demands a cross-sectoral approach, in the form of community based mental wellbeing collaboratives, linking health providers with other stakeholders including councils, youth work teams, schools and colleges, ambulance services and police. Minimum standards of timeliness and quality of care should be guaranteed by a new National Service Framework for Mental Health.
  2. For young people this means focusing on:
    1. timely access to evidence-based care;
    2. targeted interventions on drug and alcohol use;
    3. anti-stigma campaigns; and, most importantly,
    4. addressing systemic causes of social exclusion.
  3. Erosion in funding for primary and secondary mental health care must be reversed, with the aim of achieving parity of funding. (That is not to say that funding should be mathematically equal to funding for physical health, but that the level of funding should be determined systematically according to need.)
  4. A National Strategy for Mental Health should be created to improve the resilience of communities across the board and should include but by no means be limited to:
    1. improving the capacity of schools to offer help and support for those struggling;
    2. restoring universities as places of learning rather than competition;
    3. providing funded apprenticeships and pathways to meaningful and secure jobs;
    4. providing access to secure, good quality and affordable housing;
    5. improving funding to mental health care so that more holistic care can be provided in emergency settings; and
    6. offering mental health training to all those in key roles such as teachers, police, job centre staff, councillors, and allied healthcare professionals so they can respond sensitively and appropriately to crisis.


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This is a discussion document not agreed policy.

Mental Health services are “overwhelmed” by soaring demand according to a report by the body representing community, ambulance and hospital service providers, NHS Providers (July 2017, ref 1). Demand has increased by 5-10% over the last 3-4 years, but by 30-40% for children and young people. Patients are facing long delays to access mental health care, and people too often receive inadequate treatment. The numbers of people in need of specialist post-trauma mental health services has escalated dramatically following recent terrorist and civilian disasters. These intractable problems are the result of the Conservative Government’s unremitting policy of economic austerity, the prolonged real terms reduction of NHS funding over the past 7 years, and worsening shortages of key mental health staff such as nurses and psychiatrists.

The Socialist Health Association is committed to ensuring fulfilment of repeated high level commitments to ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health, and urgent implementation of proposals set out in the cross-agency Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (February 2016, ref 2) and Five Year Forward View for Mental Health: one year on’ (February 2017, ref 3). This must be combined with the future freedom from political interference of NHS policy making and delivery.

mental health

The origins of mental wellbeing and good mental health

The SHA policy on mental wellbeing is founded on the recognition that societal factors impact significantly on the whole spectrum of mental wellbeing to mental ill-health. The effects on individuals and families of social deprivation impacting on income, debt, access to appropriate accommodation, rewarding employment and security of tenure, community and family support networks, the availability and content of education, and other factors all play their part. The physiological reactions to stress of an expectant mother with pressing social difficulties affect the developing brain of her child. Experiencing or witnessing abuse and violence in the domestic setting at an early age can have severe lifelong effects on mental wellbeing and health.

In addition to the effects of absolute deprivation, living with extreme socio-economic inequalities has an independent impact: the experience of being judged socially inferior is a chronic cause of stress with negative effects on physical and mental health. Even severe mental illnesses with a genetic component are influenced by such social factors.

‘’.. . although genetic vulnerability may underlie some mental illness, this can’t by itself explain the huge rises in illness in recent decades – our genes can’t change that fast.’ Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett – The Spirit Level.

Virtually every aspect of policy – economic, housing, education and training, environment, equalities, health and social care – impacts on mental wellbeing, and should be seen clearly and addressed collaboratively to serve the promotion of good mental health, personal autonomy, and full access to civil society. At the same time, responsibility for determining and delivering health and social care must be freed from the highly disruptive cycle of repeated organisational change and political interference in NHS management.

Promoting knowledge, support, and care

A general understanding of the promotion of mental wellbeing, and the way mental health problems are manifest should be promoted at all levels in society through ante-natal care, children’s centres, school and further / higher education, to places of employment, and this should be a central facet of a National Strategy for Public Health.

The vast majority of people with mental health problems, including those who need highly specialised inputs to their management, will rely on primary and community care for diagnosis and ongoing care and support. For the large number of people who have both physical health and mental health problems these are managed together in primary care. Access to social support and integrated resources can best be managed by community based mental wellbeing collaboratives bringing together service users and carers, community groups including ‘Being Well’ projects (Plunkett Foundation: ) commissioners, voluntary sector organisations, local authority services, and primary and secondary health services.

To make these effective,

  1. The severe reduction in funding for primary care, and in particular general practice, must be reversed urgently
  2. Community based mental wellbeing collaboratives (see above) should be established in all areas, with appropriate public health support.
  3. The progressive and continuing erosion of funding for mental health services, itself the product in part of continuing real-terms reduction in funding for the NHS more widely, must also be reversed urgently and in line with ongoing rhetoric about ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health. Parity should not mean a race to the bottom for mental, physical and social health funding.

Specific SHA policy recommendations include:

  1. Parity of funding for the prevention of, treatment services and related social care for, and research into mental ill-health; and for treatments including psychological alternatives to medication; and funding to ensure research findings are applied in clinical practice more quickly. To reflect the accepted burden of disease, 23% of NHS spend should be committed to secondary mental health service provision rather than the present 13%. Funding must be ring-fenced.
  2. An integrated cross-party, cross-government National Strategy for Mental Health including public education, universal support, and clear policies for tackling the societal determinants of poor mental health, ie poverty, debt, housing need, low educational attainment, low employment aspiration and community disintegration.
  3. A new National Service Framework for Mental Health drawing on the ‘Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’ and linked to the National Strategy for Mental Health, incorporating urgent review and reinstatement of national standards for mental health service provision, including for illness prevention and improved access to services.
  4. Establishment of an Independent National Health and Social Care Service Commission to oversee the rapid integration of health and social care, and to govern a new National Health and Social Care Service in future free from party political interference.
  5. Confrontation and breaking down of stigma should be a fundamental part of mental health strategy – this requires more public information and education about mental illness, the building of community cohesion, how to help oneself, and about the principles of early intervention.
  1. Improved and better resources including mental health services in Primary Care / General Practice, funded in addition to and not at the expense of more specialised secondary mental health services
  2. Continued development of integrated services which jointly and holistically address mental, physical and social needs, especially for children, women in the perinatal period, people with learning disabilities and associated mental ill-health, people with serious mental illness, people suffering comorbid physical and mental illness, and older people with multiple physical and mental conditions and related social needs.
  3. Review and possible reversal of the ill-considered and austerity-driven dismantling of specialist mental health teams (eg for people in crisis, people with complex needs and personality disorders, assertive outreach for people with psychotic illnesses), or greatly enhanced resourcing of integrated Community Mental Health Teams.
  4. Further extension of psychological therapy services to provide more alternatives to medication, including increased provision of longer term psychotherapies for those with more complex and enduring mental health problems.
  5. Greatly enhanced services for children and young people with mental health problems (anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating disorders are increasingly prevalent), including collaborative mental health & wellbeing provision in schools and colleges, increased numbers of health visitors and school nurses, ready access to specialised mental health services (CAMHS), an increase in inpatient provision to avoid children and young people being admitted to hospital far from family and home, and specialist provision for eating disorders, post sexual abuse and other post-traumatic disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and drug abuse.
  6. Service development and further research for the identification and treatment of ill-health, and provision of integrated social care for older people with mental disorders or dementias, in domestic, community and residential (care and nursing home) settings.
  7. Substantial additional funding and improvement in health and social care services for children and adults with learning disabilities, including for autistic spectrum disorders.
  8. Urgent research and clinical intervention to reduce mortality rates for people with serious mental illness who still die 15-20 years before those without SMI.
  9. Urgent review of the escalating incidence of suicide and attempted suicide, urgent updating of suicide prevention strategies, and resources for rapid intervention and inter-agency collaboration following suicide attempts.
  10. Greatly improved cross-agency provision for people with acute mental health emergencies, including mental health / police interface services and crisis intervention services – including helping friends and families to cope. We should treat mental health crises with the same urgency and import as other medical crises.
  11. Reduction in the number of patients who are subject to Compulsory Treatment Orders, which have not been shown to benefit patients. This will require increased and improved in-patient treatment provision.
  12. Reversal of austerity-driven and counter-productive reductions in psychiatric in-patient bed numbers, including for children and young people.
  13. Comprehensive provision of integrated health and social care services for adults and children who have been exposed to significant traumatic experiences recently or in the past, including specialised psychological treatment services for those suffering from post-traumatic and related disorders.
  14. Urgent and rapid enhancement of mental illness diagnostic and treatment provision in the criminal justice system, especially in prisons for both adults and young people.
  15. Provision of comprehensive, country-wide mental health facilities with essential translation services for refugees and migrants, both in mainstream community services and in detention / removal centres.
  16. More research and sensitive provision for people who experience mental health problems as a result of exposure to stress in the workplace.
  17. Research on and more systematic approaches to evaluating the outcomes of treatments for the full range of mental health problems, including both common, episodic ill-health (eg anxiety and depressive disorders) and severe, enduring mental illnesses (eg schizophrenia, bipolar disorder).
  18. Resources for mental health services have been stretched to the point of dangerousness, so substantial additional funding, imaginative development of more integrated services, and persistent determination will be required to bring about the improvements and changes that are so urgently needed. Only a robust policy framework, freedom from repeated political interference, and ruthless commitment to delivery will achieve true ‘parity’ of esteem and funding for mental health.


  1. NHS Providers (2017) ‘The State of the NHS Provider Sector’

  2. NHS England (2016) ‘The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’

  3. NHS England (2017) ‘Five Year Forward View for Mental Health: one year on’

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