‘Hold us to account’, says NHS boss on mental health

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has made ambitious promises to the Health Select Committee. 

By Winnie Agbonlahor

14 Nov 2014

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has put his reputation on the line over the organisation’s commitment to improving mental health services. In its ‘Five Year Forward View’, published on 23 October, NHS England set out its “ambition to achieve genuine parity of esteem between physical and mental health by 2020.” And five days after the 40-page document was released, Stevens told the Health Select Committee: “We have a lot to do in mental health and we are very ambitious to do it. That is what the users of the mental health services, the stakeholders, want us to do as well.” He will make himself available to be “held to account” on the plan, he said, adding that “mental health is the only set of services where the NHS has staked itself out for the next five years despite not knowing what the funding environment will look like through 2020.”

Asked later by committee chair Sarah Wollaston if he is “confident that we will not be having the same discussions in five years’ time about mental health”, he responded: “I may live to regret this – but yes.”

The system, he said, is “out of balance”, with “about 13% of the NHS budget spent on mental health”. He added: “We need to make progress on child and adolescent services, on eating disorder services and crisis care, which has seen huge improvements in the course of the last 18 months”.

Prior to the hearing, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that the maximum waiting times to receive treatment for mental health conditions will, for the first time, be brought into line with those governing other NHS services from April 2015, and set out £120m of extra funding to improve mental health services. Under the plans, most patients needing talking therapies will be guaranteed treatment in six weeks, with a maximum wait of 18 weeks. 

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