“We are long way off parity of esteem” - shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger hits out at government during visit to region

PUBLISHED: 16:35 17 March 2016 | UPDATED: 17:02 17 March 2016

Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South and Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, meet mental health campaigners.

Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South and Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, meet mental health campaigners. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

A senior politician today said parity of esteem is still not occuring within the NHS.

Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, told this newspaper the problems with services in this region are mirrored nationally.

Ms Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, met with members of Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk in Norwich today with Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.

Numerous themes were discussed during the meeting, including staff shortages, the rise locally in unexpected deaths, a lack of inpatient beds, little available tailored help for people with Asberger Syndrome, and a reliance on the private sector.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is in special measures, and an inquiry is currently ongoing into a big rise of unexpected deaths.

Ms Berger said the stories told by the campaigners was evidence that parity of esteem (equal funding for mental health compared to physical health) is a long way off.

“I was struck by stories of how the extreme cuts made by the local trust has impacted on patients and families,” she said.

“We want mental health put on an equal footing and integrate the care.

“We would rather treat the whole person than one symptom.

“The rise in unexpected deaths is happening in other parts of the country so a lot of people have questions to answer.

“Last year the funding for mental health trusts was cut by 20pc more than that for other areas of the NHS,” she added.

She said parity of esteem was only introduced to the Health and Social Care Act 2012 after an amendment from Labour, while the bill was making its way through Parliament.

She claimed £77m earmarked to help tackle the crisis in children’s mental health, which the government knows exists, is going unspent this year.

She also highlighted a written Parliamentary answer from mental health minister Alistair Burt, which admitted that just £5m of a £15m package for perinatal care would be spent by NHS England this financial year.

The government has said it is committed to parity of esteem.

A Department of Health spokesman said the government has pledged to make available £1.25bn for children’s mental health over five years.

That money will be spent gradually, and not necessarily by the average of £250m per year, the spokesman said.

The spokesman added David Cameron had set out plans for a £365m investment in perinatal care in a speech in January.

“The government’s mental health spending is not just what it spends on mental health trusts,” the spokesman said.

“Money for mental health also goes to charities and local authorities, and overall mental health spending rose in 2014/15 to £11.7bn.”

Mr Lewis praised the campaigners for their work in fighting for mental health services.

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