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Fair funding for mental health Putting parity into practice

Briefing

The case for bold action to address poor mental health in the UK – both on moral and economic grounds – is clear. A staggering one in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year (McManus et al 2016). Too many people still suffer in silence or go without treatment. Shockingly, those with severe mental health problems still die on average 15–20 years younger than those without. Meanwhile, the cost of mental health to the economy is about £100 billion every year – the same as the cost of the entire NHS.

Politicians have increasingly recognised this, but we are still some way off achieving ‘parity of esteem’. There is a cross-party consensus that we need to invest more money in mental health to achieve 'parity of esteem' between mental and physical health. This has started to translate into policy – notably in the form of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (FYFVMH), against which some progress has been made. But, even if the FYFVMH is delivered, a majority of people living with poor mental health still won’t receive treatment, and large inequalities will remain.

The NHS Long-Term Plan must clearly define ‘parity of esteem’ and commit to delivering it within the NHS by 2030. No one definition for ‘parity of esteem’ was agreed on when it was adopted as a system aim. This has allowed politicians to profess a commitment to it without being held accountable for specific deliverables. This must change. ‘Parity of esteem’ should mean that “people living with a mental health condition have an equal chance of a long and fulfilling life as those with a physical health condition”. The NHS Long-Term Plan should adopt this definition and commit to delivering it within the NHS.