Hypocrisy vs Reality: May’s announcement on Mental Health Reform

A report from the Mental Health frontline appraises the Conservative Party’s announcements on mental health reform.

If you were to believe Tory party statements around NHS mental health care over the past few years you would almost think that standards of mental health care, service user satisfaction and staff morale would be positive and on the up.  Cameron, Hunt and now Theresa May, have spoken positively about boosting resources and countering stigma around mental health issues.  Various royals have even been put in front of the cameras to talk about their own experience of mental distress.

The most recent announcement has been part of the Tory election campaign.  May spoke about providing an extra billion £s and 10,000 more mental health practitioners by 2020.  She also promised to address inequality and discrimination in mental health detentions and to ‘tear up the 1983 mental health act’.

But when you work on the frontline of NHS mental health services the experience is a very different one.  I work as part of a ‘first response’ or ‘crisis team’ in a big northern metropolitan area.  I struggle to see any improvements in service provision and see nothing other than a huge squeeze on resources.  There certainly isn’t much optimism.

I see Community Psychiatric Nurse colleagues manage caseloads of up to 70 complex clients, I see waiting times for access to psychological input for ‘common mental health problems’ reach six months, I see inpatient wards continually running at 95-100 percent bed occupancy and the continued use of out of area treatments often in private psychiatric units miles away from the patient’s family as our own NHS trust has no beds available.


The King’s Fund briefing paper on ‘Mental Health Under Pressure’ reports some of the reality behind Conservative party spin on mental health.

  • Between 2011-14  there has been a 7 percent reduction in beds
  • 91 percent of wards are now operating above recommended bed occupancy levels
  • Out of Area bed use has risen by 25 percent since 2014-15
  • 30 percent of delayed discharges are due to resource issues in Community Mental Health Team (CMHT)
  • Mental health funding fell for the first time in a decade in 2011-12
  • In 2012-14, 45 percent of Mental Health trusts had reduced income
  • 25 percent reduction in service users receiving mental health social care support since 2010
  • 9.8 percent rise in Mental Health Act detentions since 2009

The reality behind the Conservative party spin is fairly clearly exposed by these details but it is worth trying to answer the specific points that they have brought up in their most recent election announcement.

STAFFING – they promise 10,000 more mental health professionals but at the same time they have governed over a reduction in 6,700 mental health nurses and medics since 2010.

They promise more nurses while they have abolished the bursary provided to train student nurses.

DETENTIONS UNDER THE MENTAL HEALTH ACT – they try to define the increase in detentions under the act as being provoked by the outdated nature of the 1983 Mental Health Act.  The reality sees practitioners being told the only way to secure a bed is to detain a service user and there is a clear increasing lack of flexible community alternatives to inpatient care. The reduction in social care and benefit cuts has left people more vulnerable and at risk.

FUNDING – they promise a billion more £s for mental health care and that this will be ‘new money’.  Let’s hope it is, because previous announcements about increased funding have not happened in reality. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) patients still endure inadequate provision and long waiting lists.  The reality of NHS funding is that by 2020 we will have a short fall of around £20 billion.


Well we don’t trust the Tories. May’s promises on mental health appear nothing more than hypocrisy.

We’ve had lots of promises of ‘new funding’ over recent years and little has been delivered.

We need to stop NHS cuts.

We need to stop creeping privatisation.

We need to oppose austerity and benefit cuts that impact disproportionately on people enduring mental health issues.

We need to campaign for a resourced and democratic mental health system that has service users at its heart.



By David Cooper


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