The general agreement in the press appears to be that George Osborne’s £2bn promise of funding for the NHS constituted some form of electoral sweetener or ‘Lollipop’ for voters gearing their minds toward a general election. Sadly however, this comes following four and a half years of brutal cuts to our health services and in particular to our mental health services.
And as someone who works in community mental health and who has had to navigate all tiers of the psychiatric system in recent months on behalf of a distressed family member, I have seen first-hand the ways in which this funding decimation has played out on the ground. George Osborne’s electoral lollipop has come too late for the distraught and desperate families and the many fine professionals pulverised into professional impotence and desperation by an austerity programme that has savaged equally the mental health services and the many people who are drawn into needing them.
It has come too late for the 16 year old girl with mental health problems who was kept in police cells for two days because a lack of care beds meant a bed could not be found for her. Mr Osborne’s pre-election lollipop has also come too late for the seven mental health patients who have killed themselves in England since 2012 after being told that there were no beds for them and the patient who was denied a bed who then went on to kill his mother. Indeed such pre-electoral sweeteners are too late for the many around the country affected by the 2,179 mental health beds cut since 2011. When mental health beds are cut, lives are lost. Sweeteners and lollipops are too late for the seven people above.
However this announcement is not too late for are the one in five Coalition MPs with links to private health firms and whose asset stripping of the NHS presents a ‘win-win scenario’ of both pleasing the public with pre-election treats while funnelling more funding to the private sector. Nor is it too late for the latest high profile politician to swing through the revolving door that leads from parliament to highly paid private healthcare work.
For the sake of the seven families above and for the many vulnerable people whose needs can’t be met outside of the election period, we urgently need to chart a new politics of mental health provision where our desperately underfunded services finally receive parity with our partners in the developed world. As the election looms and Mr Hunt and Mr Osborne will don the industrial high visibility jackets and hard hats that have become the de rigour electioneering costume, one might hope that they also stop in to a local mental health facility to see first-hand the damage that their neglect of the mental health agenda have wrought. It’s the kind of damage that voter lollipops cannot put right.
Dr Carl Walker, National Health Action Party and coordinator of the European Community Psychology Association Task Force on Austerity and Mental Health