New delivery programme in Wales is welcomed but how will its impact be measured?

13 October 2016

World Mental Health Day on October 10th is a time to celebrate mental health and wellbeing, but it’s also a time to reflect.

Here in Wales, amidst the announcements and events, came the Cabinet Secretary’s launch of the delivery plan for mental health. This forms the next three-year phase of delivering the Welsh Government’s 10 year strategy: Together for Mental Health.

It’s refreshing to see just one strategy that takes a longitudinal approach (well, 10 years is a very long time in politics!) and one which reflects a public health approach, incorporating actions for education, early years, housing and the workplace to name a few.

It’s too easy for politicians to focus on improvements to the health service only as a relative ‘quick win’ rather than unpick and address the complex set of circumstances that may lead people to have mental ill-health.

So what does the delivery plan include?

11 priority areas have been identified with a number of actions and performance measures falling underneath them – this includes:

  • people in Wales being more resilient and better able to tackle poor mental wellbeing
  • addressing loneliness and isolation
  • meeting diversity and the population’s diverse needs
  • children having the best possible start in life and being more resilient and supported when they become unwell
  • access to appropriate and timely services for everyone.

Wales will also be a ‘dementia friendly’ nation and a new dementia strategy is expected this December.

The delivery plan has been published following an extensive period of consultation and involvement of different stakeholders, including the voluntary sector – with many alterations and developments along the way.

We are delighted at the comprehensive approach to the final plan - certain areas (such as supporting those with eating disorders and addressing isolation and loneliness) have been developed extensively since earlier drafts, although the plan is still a bit ‘light’ on supporting older people’s mental health. 

Reading through the 38-page document though, I’m struck by the challenge of how we measure this change in three years’ time after the plan has been delivered. Most of the performance measures include a ‘percentage change’ but as there is no baseline for many of the measures in the plan, it’s difficult to see what that might change might be. Data and information is a challenge in Wales and, more broadly, information that records the quality of people’s experiences, as well as any numerical change.

It’s important that any public mental health plan is accompanied by investment in evaluating and measuring its success (or not) so that ultimately we can assess whether it leads to improvements in people’s lives.

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