Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Health, has called on the Government to commit to introducing comprehensive waiting time standards for people with mental illness.
During the Coalition Government, Norman Lamb and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, secured the first ever NHS waiting time standards in mental health. This meant that most people needing talking therapies for common mental health conditions like depression will receive treatment within 6 weeks from April 2015, while those experiencing their first episode of psychosis will receive the treatment they need within 2 weeks of being referred.
Although this was important progress, there is still much more to be done to achieve equal rights of access to treatment on a timely basis between physical health and mental health. The five-year blueprint for mental health services – ‘Achieving Better Access to Mental Health Service by 2020’, which was published by Norman Lamb when he was a minister – stated that these standards “should be seen as just a starting point in an ambitious programme that by 2020 would aim to provide a comprehensive set of access and waiting time standards” in mental health.
Speaking in a House of Commons debate on mental health yesterday, Norman Lamb said:
“How can anyone in this Chamber possibly justify this: if someone has suspected cancer, they have a right to an appointment with a specialist within two weeks of referral by their GP, but a youngster with an eating disorder has no such right, yet we know that their condition can kill? That is a scandal and an outrage and it must change. There must be equality of access.”
Norman Lamb went on to press the Government to take two urgent actions to end this “historic injustice” and “discrimination at the heart of our NHS”:
- Spend money more effectively by focusing on early intervention, recovery, and crisis support in the community to prevent people with mental ill health being admitted to hospital.
- Invest in a new programme of comprehensive maximum waiting time standards, including for children and young people, so that there is an equilibrium of rights of access to treatment.
In response, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt paid tribute to Norman’s campaign, saying: “No one has done more in the House to campaign for mental health.”
The Health Secretary said that he will wait to consider the recommendations of the Mental Health Taskforce, which are due to be published in January 2016, before making a decision on the introduction of new waiting time standards.