Plea to Government over mental health service improvements

Every former health secretary of the past 20 years has signed an open letter voicing "alarm and dismay" at the Government's failure to deliver on promises to improve services for mental health patients.

The letter urged ministers in Theresa May's administration to honour a pledge made by her predecessor, David Cameron, that the NHS would treat mental health equally with physical problems.

Conservative former health secretaries Lord Lansley, Stephen Dorrell and Kenneth Clarke and Labour's Andy Burnham, Alan Johnson, Patricia Hewitt, John Reid, Alan Milburn and Frank Dobson were joined by two former NHS chief executives, the chair of the House of Commons Health Committee and a slew of former ministers from three parties in signing the letter to The Times.

The signatories said they were "encouraged" by earlier Government statements backing calls for mental health patients to receive "the same timely access to treatment as others enjoy".

But they added: "Despite the warm words, one year on we see the same enduring injustice, the massive economic cost and the distress suffered by countless families across the country.

"Despite promised increases in funding, mental health trusts are still suffering cuts. Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45, people in crisis are still routinely shunted across the country in search of a hospital bed, children with eating disorders are too often turned away from services, and there is a growing mental health crisis among young women.

"We are alarmed and dismayed that so many of these points echo those made a year ago when promises of real change were made by David Cameron and George Osborne. We urge their successors to make good the promise of genuine equality."

Current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the newspaper: "We are making progress against our goal to address the difficulties faced by those with mental health problems - spending by clinical commissioning groups has increased by £693 million, every area in the country has put together plans to transform children's mental health services, and our suicide prevention strategy is to be refreshed, all backed by added investment."

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