Mental Health care receives cash injection: Can we pick up the pieces?
The coalition government was accused of eating away at the heart of our mental health services. Ahead of a £600m injection of cash, how did we let them get away with it in the first place? Adele Couchman speaks to Nathan Filer, a former psychiatric nurse.
Mental health services for children and young people were cut by £35 million last year. In a stark u-turn, £600m of additional funding will be pumped into mental health services following the release of George Osborne’s autumn statement.
This all comes at a time of increased awareness in combating the stigma long held about mental illness. Last month saw a long list of celebrities pushing for mental health to be treated as seriously as other illnesses, with Professor Green poignantly highlighting his own father’s suicide in his personal documentary, Suicide and Me.
But in an age where we are meant to care about mental illness, why was our NHS services left to fester in the first place?
For former psychiatric nurse Nathan Filer, the answer lies in politics.
“Very vulnerable people with serious mental health conditions aren’t necessarily the people campaigning and voting”, explains Nathan.
“There isn’t a voice for those people. Naturally, they’re less interesting to politicians.”
Now a Costa-award winning novelist, Nathan still holds mental health awareness close to his heart. An outspoken critic of government cuts to NHS mental health services, the author has gained recognition in raising awareness of mental health care and explored the subject in his debut novel, The Shock of the Fall.
Sadly, the closure of his own psychiatric ward in Southmead Hospital is no buck in the national trend. An investigation last year found that 2,100 mental health beds have closed since April 2011, with seven people killing themselves after being told there were no hospital beds available for them.
Not only a crisis to do with beds, Nathan highlights a worrying trend for NHS staff who have survived the onslaught of government cuts.
“In mental health trusts that aren’t doing so well you have more sickness and absence amongst staff.
“People go into nursing to engage with people and help them. But when resources mean that’s harder to do, that makes the job less satisfactory”.
Mental ill-health accounts for more than 25 per cent of the disease burden, yet until recently received 11 per cent of health expenditure.
As well as nurses, Nathan believes patients are drawing the short straw too.
“The pressure on staff means if you’re lucky, you get 10 minutes to converse with someone. How are you going to dig below the surface and get a sense of what someone’s story is in that time?”
Yet, despite the mess left by the coalition government, the novelist believes there is hope in people giving mental well-being the attention it deserves.
“When people have that conversation, they’re not isolated and having to deal with the situation on their own
“As a group we’re stronger, because then we can lobby, and politicians do have to listen.”
With a long awaited boost in funding, could it be that our government has taken notice after all?