The NHS is an incredible British institution and I am proud to belong to a party that values and prioritises our national health service. But the NHS needs to be able to adapt to new challenges and priorities, one of which is mental health.
One in four of us will suffer a mental health problem at some point during our lifetime, making it the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age. That’s why Labour wants to give mental health the priority it deserves.
Even in 2012, mental illness is a subject that is still too often brushed under the carpet. Far too many people struggling with a mental health problem feel as if they have to pretend something else is wrong – scared of what others will think. We need to break the taboo surrounding mental health and tackle prejudice against those affected by mental illness. Just as we joined the fight against racism, sexism and homophobia, so we should join the fight against this form of intolerance.
For too long mental health has been shunted to the margins of health policy. The cost of this neglect is enormous: in the strains and demands placed on those who carry the burden of care and in the trouble stored up over the years as minor problems become major ones. And failing to address mental illness costs the economy dear too. Untreated mental illness costs the NHS an extra £10 billion a year, and costs businesses over £8bn in sickness absence alone.
The Labour Party has recently announced a series of measures to improve mental health services in the NHS. We want to re-write the NHS Constitution to give people the right to talking therapies for treating mental illness – just as they already have the right to drugs and treatments for physical illness. And to make sure that mental health problems are spotted early, we will ensure that training for all professional staff in the NHS includes mental health training.
Finally, if we are to meet the mental health challenge, we must also recognise that it is an issue not just for the NHS, but for society as a whole. Good mental health doesn’t start in hospital, but in our workplaces, our schools and our communities. That is why Ed Miliband has announced the formation of a Taskforce on Mental Health in Society so that the next Labour government can begin work immediately, implementing the change that is needed. This taskforce will look at how businesses, schools, communities and the criminal justice system need to respond to the challenge of mental health in the 21st Century.
Transforming the way we deal with mental health is an enormous challenge, both at a national level and at a local level in Coventry, but it is a challenge that we have to face head-on if we are to build a One Nation Britain, where everybody has a stake and prosperity is fairly shared.