This story is over 5 years old.


Debunking the Prime Minister's Plans to Save Mental Health Services

Theresa May's recent announcement is a fantasy.
Dan Kitwood / PA

Make way, "Big Society" – there's a new political slogan in town. That said, it's fairly disappointing: you might have thought the Tories could come up with something snappier than the "Shared Society" Theresa May has just announced. Not only does this phrase contain 50 percent of the same words as the last empty husk of a Tory mantra, it's basically the same principle.

The "Big Society" meant people should do jobs for their community for free so the government didn't have to pay for things. Under the Shared Society, those jobs involve cleaning up the massive mess left behind by exactly the same cuts the Big Society was invented to hide, but with no money to do it.


Up first: mental health. In some places, since the Tories got into power, up to three quarters of young people who tried to get basic counselling were turned away. The average waiting time for assessment is two months for young people. Instead of properly funding doctors and clinics to deal with this, May will shift the responsibility to employers and schools, without giving them any extra money to handle the change.

Here are some of the claims she made, immediately followed by the very bleak, very real realities.

Claim: There will be "a step-change" in the way we deal with mental health.
Reality: "Step-change", in this instance, seems to mean a magical way of making things work better without spending any more money. In fact, the only cash on the table is £15 million to create vague "places of safety" for people with mental health problems. SANE, the mental health charity, said the policy is a "utopian vision" that ignores the reality that underfunded psychiatric services are in breakdown. "We urge that these laudable ideas for education and workplace awareness be matched by substantially increased funds," said Marjorie Wallace, chief executive.

Claim: Every secondary school in the country will be offered mental health "first aid" training for teachers.
Reality: The idea of improving teachers' awareness of mental health issues had already been proposed by Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb when he was a minister in 2015. But since then, school budgets have been cut by £3 billion and three-quarters of school leaders say they lack the funds to provide necessary mental health care to students, according to the National Association of Head Teachers. Where the money will come from for teachers to get this training is anyone's guess.


Claim: There will be a major review on how to help people with mental health problems in the workplace.
Reality: "Much of the evidence here already exists; we don't need another review," said Jenny Edwards, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation. Instead of another review, the onus is now on employers to spot staff with mental health problems and refer them to doctors, where they'll be referred to counselling and other services which are (see above and below) underfunded.

Read more on the Tories and the NHS: Jeremy Hunt's Former Adviser Is Now a Lobbyist for a Firm Representing Big Pharma

Claim: Over the course of this parliament, £1.4 billion will go to mental health support for children and young people.
Reality: The Lib Dems granted most of this money in 2015 and it has since been diverted away to other areas. Charity YoungMinds has found that half of Clinical Commissioning Groups (which buy and plan local NHS services) are using some or all of this extra money to "prop up other things" that are being underfunded, says shadow health secretary Normal Lamb. "This amounts to theft of money intended to improve the lives of vulnerable young people," he adds. What is happening to that funding is unknown, as many groups refuse to say exactly where the money is being spent.

Claim: New online services will help patients check their symptoms before getting an appointment in real life.
Reality: May says this is a way for patients to get help quickly without waiting for a doctor's appointment (which can now take two weeks, up 30 percent from 2015) by checking their symptoms online instead. But think about this: is looking at a computer screen rather than talking to an actual human professional really going to make you feel any better about your mental breakdown?

Claim: By 2021, no child will be sent away from their local area to receive treatment for mental health issues. 
Reality: Charities say some children with specialist mental health problems, such as eating disorders, have always been sent far away for treatment. However, massive cuts to local budgets have meant that these so-called out-of-area placements have risen 236 percent since 2011. One young woman with anorexia was sent 400 miles away from home to get treatment, and cases like this keep on increasing. It's hard to see how this will end – last year, a £1.25 billion investment in child and adolescent mental health services was announced, but staff on the frontline say they've not seen any of it. Without this, "Lives will continue to be lost for patients turned away from care, refused admission to depleted psychiatric units and left insufficiently supported," said Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE.

So there you have it: a whole load of promises; very little chance of any of them coming to fruition.