MPs and Peers are calling for an end to the ‘institutional bias’ against mental health which they claim is rife across the National Health Service, and are urging the incoming government to ramp up efforts to create equality between mental and physical health services.

Following a year-long inquiry, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, chaired by Conservative MP James Morris, has concluded that there is ‘unacceptably poor’ provision of mental health care in England, which would not be tolerated in the rest of the NHS.

The report highlights three key areas where the lack of equality between mental and physical health services is particularly evident: premature death, with patients who have serious mental illnesses dieing on average 15-20 years earlier than those who don’t; emergency care, having found widespread failure to provide timely and appropriate support for people experiencing a mental health crisis; and public health, with just 1.4% of spending allocated to mental health.

The APPG’s recommendations include a national target for reducing premature death, a wider range of community support services to cut the number of people experiencing a mental health crisis being held in police cells, and mental health champions in all local authorities to ensure mental health is prioritised.

A change of mindset

Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said “parity of esteem must be embedded into the mindset of all health professionals and policy makers, from the Secretary of State for Health to the local CCG commissioners,” to “ensure that people with mental health problems are treated with the same respect and dignity as those with physical health problems”.

APPG chair James Morris MP said progress in improving mental health services has been “unacceptably slow”, with “long-term failure over successive governments to give mental health equal priority with physical health”. 

Mental health charities are now calling for additional funds as well as greater accountability and transparency on what health leaders are doing to drive improvement in the care of patients.