A defining moment for mental health

Read Mark Henderson’s thoughts on the priorities for the forthcoming NHS 10 year plan, which appeared this week in Inside Housing.

Tyson Fury, hoping next month to overcome American Deontay Wilder, this week took the opportunity to promote himself as a different kind of champion – one who is going to take up the fight to raise awareness of mental health on the global stage.

As we know, Fury can talk a lot of nonsense – but not in this case. He is talking from experience. His issues are well documented and he is planning to use them to ensure the issue stays high up on everyone’s agenda.

“Mental health is one of the biggest issues we have now in the world,” he says. “It’s a silent killer. It’s just a constant battle with yourself. The more it’s talked about, the more it becomes open, which will smash the stigma of mental health.”

Admirable words, and not to be dismissed. However, as good as his intentions are, it is going to take a heavyweight of mammoth proportions to effectively support those living with mental health conditions.

That heavyweight is the 70-year-old battered and bruised veteran, the NHS. And in its corner is Chief Executive, Simon Stevens.

The Prime Minister has provided a five-year funding settlement for the NHS. In return, Mr Stevens has been charged with delivering a 10-year plan to improve performance and transform services. The funding settlement falls short of what experts say is needed, which means there will be difficult choices to make about priorities.

High on the list of the many priorities, agree most experts, rightly, is addressing mental health.

This 10-year plan needs to be bold and focused on the long-term interventions that will make a difference. It can’t be the quick-fix approach that has given the NHS a reputation for short termism.

That strategy needs at its heart, an integrated partnership plan – the NHS can’t do it alone. The housing sector must be, and already is in part, a key partner in this area. The NHS needs to understand fully, the impact housing can have in helping to support people with mental health issues.

For that to happen the housing sector needs a stronger voice. For example, it needs seats at the tables of those delivering the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) throughout the country. At the moment, housing is recognised as an important player, but all too often the answers we can offer are considered secondarily.

There are some fantastic examples of this working throughout the country. Home Group, for instance, has seconded a colleague to work with an STP to help draft its housing strategy to ensure that from the outset, the integration and opportunities are in place.  Some local areas have made use of Section 75 agreements, which enables local areas to pool budgets – however this is still too patchwork.

The NHS 10 year strategy is an opportunity to lead this to ensure that people throughout the country can benefit from an integrated housing, health and social care system by thinking boldly and systemically about the opportunities to integrate.

The NHS is perfectly placed to do this. It can bring together the best practice in local areas and lead the structural, and culture change needed to deliver effective integrated health, housing and social care practice.

For example, Home Group’s Step Down and Step Up services are great examples of highly effective partnership working.

Step Down is a safe and progressive care service for people with mental ill health who would benefit from moving out of in-patient care and receive tailored support. Step Up prevents hospital admission for people experiencing mental health crisis or emotional distress.

Both are having such positive life-changing impacts on individuals.

The other upside is cost. Our mental health services could save NHS commissioners around £2,000 per person per week compared to a hospital stay, or in-patient care costs.

We are delivering 426 services with NHS trusts and local authorities, supporting over 23,000 people. But what’s currently not in place is a nationally-led, strategic vision.

We, in the housing sector, also need to step up and deliver a coordinated and consistent approach, to show what we have to offer can have a significant impact on the long-term health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities, and the NHS itself.

If Simon Stevens delivers the right tactics in the NHS’s corner next month, and with key partners supporting from ringside, then the chances of effectively tackling one of the UK’s biggest health issues becomes more promising. Why not throw in the high-profile, big hitting Mr Fury for good measure!


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