Posted by: carolg1849 | February 18, 2009

Hope in more ways than one

The best medicine

As minister for care services at the Department of Health, Phil Hope’s extensive brief encompasses mental health and social care. How to promote and protect mental wellbeing is, he says, very much at the forefront of his thinking about priorities for mental health and social care in the coming decade.

The 10-year national service framework (NSF) for mental health, launched in 1999, comes to an end this year. Hope is currently working with Louis Appleby, national director for mental health, on a new strategy, christened New Horizons, that will replace it. The NSF is widely agreed to have dramatically improved care and treatment in community-based services in particular. The new 10-year strategy will, Hope says, redress the also widely acknowledged failure of the NSF to give sufficient weight and investment to mental health promotion. The Department of Health will expect services for the mentally ill to continue to build on the past ten years of investment and reform but New Horizons, to be launched in October, will also “be looking at how we have flourishing and mentally healthy communities, families and individuals, and what we are to do about that,” Hope promises.

He fully endorses the message from the Foresight report published last autumn by the Government Office for Science (GO-Science), which calls for greater investment in our individual and collective “mental capital” – our emotional, mental and social strengths, skills and resources.

“The Foresight report is excellent and will feed into our strategy for mental health policy, but while that is happening we have been acting on these messages,” Hope says. He points to existing programmes aimed at ensuring all children and young people have the mental, emotional and social building blocks to achieve their full potential: the national network of children’s centres, Family Intervention Projects and Sure Start schemes for families with parenting and child behaviour problems, and the SEAL secondary school mental health education programme.

Volunteering is another area of significant government investment being used to help boost mental wellbeing. It is spending £25m a year on the V initiative, which is on target to get 500,000 young people involved in some kind of voluntary activity, in addition to the 20 million adults volunteering at least once a month, and six million carers. “Being involved in a group endeavour is part of what public mental wellbeing is all about,” says Hope. “We have more people volunteering than ever before. There is a very strong message here about building social and mental capital.”

He also stoutly defends the government record on tackling poverty and social inequality. “The previous 20 years saw social mobility slow or reverse and poverty and inequality widen. We have inherited that, but since 2000 social inequality has started to narrow.” He points to the forthcoming equalities legislation, outlined in the New Opportunities white paper, that will require local authorities to prioritise areas with high deprivation. “There is always more to do,” he concedes.

But Hope is also well aware of the likely impact of the recession. Rising unemployment could, for example, derail the new initiatives to get the long-term sick back into work. The government is taking a tough interventionist line, unlike its predecessor, he says: “The first thing we need to do is make sure proper tailor-made personalised support is available for people who do become redundant. The bridge to retraining to help people move jobs needs to be put in place so people don’t become long-term unemployed, because that is when real problems around mental health emerge.

“That is why a huge amount of extra money is going into Jobcentre Plus and action to support businesses to prevent redundancies in the first place. We are targeting money to support people whose housing might be under pressure, to get the economy turning again and make sure the recession is as shallow as we can make it.”

And if people do need specialist mental health support? “I think we are better placed than we ever have been to respond”.


New Opportunities white paper:


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