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Mental health will be a priority says new health and social care secretary

Matt Hancock
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock

New health and social care secretary Matt Hancock pledged to improve mental health services, including child and adolescent provision, and ensure its parity with physical health.

He also said more needed to be done to tackle suicide, which he described as a “fundamental failure of integrated support” for individuals within society.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 created a new legal responsibility for the NHS to deliver equal services and care for mental and physical health by 2020.

However, a backdrop of cuts to community mental health, a lack of mental health nurses and increasing numbers of people turning up in A&E with mental health problems has questioned this being achieved.

Hancock said: “There has been a big change in society over the last five years in which people have more confidence to talk about mental health concerns. I don’t think that is yet reflected in the NHS. It is incredibly important to get it right and to fulfil the promise in legislation set out six years ago.”

Addressing the Westminster Parliament’s cross-party health and social care committee, Hancock accepted funding was important but added the solution was also in how services were delivered.

“The more you can do in the preventative space and early intervention the better. There is a huge amount of work underway in this area,” he said.

Asked about the need to “ramp up” delivery of child and adolescent mental health services, Hancock said: “I strongly agree. Some of the pressures that have led to increase mental health challenges among young people have been from social media which I was previously responsible as minster for digital culture, media and sport.

“The fact that one in ten young people now have a diagnosable mental health condition is a great concern for me.

“I would like to see treatment and early intervention to tackle this problem and go to the root cause of it.

“The evidence isn’t as full as we might like because the technology is new, but there is growing clarity about the role of some of these pressures, including social media and we need to challenge it at all levels.”

The health and social care secretary also indicated his support for transition from youth mental health services to adults to be increased from 18 to 25 years of age.

“There are a whole series of areas where we have moved the age of transition up to 25,” he said. “I think this is well worth looking at.”

Hancock said he was “very concerned” by the suicide rate in the UK. Latest figures for 2016 show there were just under 6,000 deaths from suicide, of which around three-quarters were male.

“We talk in a policy language about integration of different services but ultimately a suicide is the fundamental failure of integrated support for an individual by society as a whole so we all have a role to play in preventing it.”

He also indicated he would urge more local authorities to adopt suicide prevention strategies – a recommendation outlined in 2012 but still to be implemented at many councils.

On social care, Hancock said the government's green paper for reforms was on track to be published in the autumn.