Mental health stands to be a key issue ahead of May's General Election, with both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband talking up their respective party's policies on improving access to mental health care. While the political parties finish preparing their manifestos, with just over two months to go until polling day on 7 May, we take a look at what they've each had to say on mental health so far.
The Conservatives have paid lip service to the importance of mental health care, with prime minister David Cameron publicly committing to ensure that mental health is treated with equal importance to physical health during a Prime Minister's Questions exchange with opposition leader Ed Miliband.
While Cameron has not had much else to say since then, Conservative MP and former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox is a long-standing advocate for improving mental health care, and last autumn wrote for Conservative Home that: "Reform of mental health care is one of the last great social reforms we need if we are to be a genuinely civilised society in the 21st century. It is a challenge that we must all accept, whatever our political allegiances."
Despite this, at the time of writing, the Conservative website is notably lacking in any kind of mental health policy, so we'll have to wait for the manifesto to see exactly where they stand.
As far as the current government is concerned, the Lib Dem partners appear to have led the way on mental health care. Government care minister and Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb last week told BBC Newsbeat that patients will have access to NHS mental health care within six weeks by April 2016 under government plans. He has pledged to improve the quality of, and access to, mental health services, including the introduction of a standardised waiting time, offering quicker access to effective, evidence-based, specialist support.
In terms of party policy, the Lib Dems have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to mental health. According to their website, "the Lib Dems believe mental health should not be ignored or stigmatised. It should be taken as seriously as physical health." As part of this commitment, party leader Nick Clegg in January pledged to sign the NHS up to a 'zero suicide' campaign.
The Lib Dems have pledged an extra £500 million per year for mental health care, and their mental health action plan sets out the party's priorities, including:
Like the Lib Dems, the Labour Party has pledged a "radical improvement in mental health provision", promising to "make mental health the priority it deserves to be". Their mental health policy includes ensuring that patients have access to the treatment and services they need, and that all professional NHS staff receive mental health training. This forms part of a broader plan for the NHS, which would "make patient services fit for the future by bringing together physical health, mental health and social care into a single system of whole-person care."
Party leader Ed Miliband has also promised the Labour Party would end "the scandal of the neglect of child mental health" by increasing the amount from the mental health budget that is spent on children.
The Green Party website boasts the longest policy section on mental health, discussing the many social and political issues around mental health care in quite some depth before laying out the party's vision. Their pledges on mental health include the following:
Currently the only mention of mental health in Ukip policy is for armed forces veterans to receive a Veterans Service Card, "to ensure they are fast tracked for mental health care and services, if needed."
RSCPP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Snowdon said: "It is good to see that the Lib Dems have a clear policy on mental health, and we expect the Conservative Party to produce the same, as this is a very important issue that affects many people. The Labour party wants to make mental health the priority it deserves to be, and the Green Party has some clear action points, but it's not yet clear how these would work in practice. While veteran mental health is extremely important, we hope that Ukip will also expand their mental health policies to cover the rest of the population. It's encouraging to hear some of the parties talking this much about mental health ahead of this year's General Election, more so than ahead of previous elections. It's important that all the parties treat mental health seriously, both when forming policies and allocating budgets, and keep up the momentum after the election and well into the future."
RSCPP will be checking back after all the parties have released their General Election manifestos.