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Parity in progress?

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health’s inquiry into parity of esteem for mental health

It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK are affected by mental health problems. Despite this, the quality of mental health services, and the resources available to them, continues to lag behind physical health. Mental health problems account for 23% of the total impact of ill health in the UK. However, only 13% of the NHS budget is allocated to mental health.

This lack of parity has a significant effect on the support available for people affected by mental health problems. For example, only 24% of people with anxiety and depression currently access treatment, compared with the 51% treatment rate for arthritis and 72% treatment rate for chronic pain.

There are three key areas where we believe the disparity between mental health and physical health is most evident:

• The unacceptably large ‘premature mortality gap’: People with serious mental illness die on average 15–20 years earlier than those without. They are also at an increased risk of developing physical health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
• An acute shortage of high quality mental health crisis care: People experiencing a mental health crisis often do not receive timely and appropriate support from mental health services. In 2013/14 6,000 people were detained in police cells because of this lack of health-based alternatives. The range and quality of care people receive also varies enormously depending on where they live
• The failure to prioritise mental health promotion and prevention in public health strategies: Despite the high numbers of people affected by mental illness, local authority public health strategies currently concentrate overwhelmingly on physical health, with only 1.4% of public health spending allocated to mental health.

While our inquiry found that the Government is indeed taking welcome steps in addressing the lack of parity in these areas (with areas of good practice existing around the country), given the progress that still needs to made, we strongly urge that their efforts be accelerated. The APPG would therefore like to see the following recommendations implemented to reduce premature mortality for people with mental health problems, improve the quality of mental health emergency care, and ensure mental health is a public health priority.

Furthermore, we have outlined further courses of action for the Government to take which would ensure the disparity between mental and physical health is tackled at its core.