Prevention must be front and centre of the mental health transformation agenda

19 July 2016

Five months after the publication of the NHS England commissioned Mental Health Taskforce report, the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, NHS England has today produced its Implementation Plan.

Given the Foundation’s strategic focus on prevention I have used this as the lens for my first reading of the Implementation Plan.

Certainly the Taskforce prevention recommendations are there, but prevention is no longer communicated as a primary purpose of the mental health transformation agenda. This is unfortunate as it came forward strongly from the Mental Health Taskforce public engagement consultation and makes sense for services under pressure. As recently highlighted by the Chief Executive of the NHS Simon Stevens, prevention is central to the future sustainability of the NHS.

This matters, people overseeing the implementation of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health and delivering it on the ground must continue to have prevention in their minds, every step of the way, for the next five years.

When the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health was published in February, I described it as "a pivotal moment in the fight for a mentally healthier nation". Reflecting the key priority of the public engagement, prevention was highlighted by the Task Force report and described as "the only way that change can be achieved".

Prevention involves: 

  • preventing mental health problems from developing in the first instance
  • preventing mental health problems from getting any worse by providing early interventions to individuals and families experiencing distress
  • preventing mental health problems long-term or life-long by supporting and sustaining recovery.

We hope that in communications around the Implementation Plan, prevention will be re-affirmed as vital to the Five Year Forward View’s success and its impact on the health of the nation. 

As the UK’s leading mental health charity working on prevention, last month the Mental Health Foundation published, with the Faculty of Public Health Better mental health for all: a public health approach to mental health improvement. We will shortly be publishing Taking local action for better mental health, which details the evidence we provided in support of Public Health England during the deliberations of the Mental Health Task Force. Both these publications are practical resources for colleagues in local areas who are commissioning and delivering prevention of mental ill health.

Across the Implementation Plan there are significant opportunities to embed prevention:

  • The sustainability and transformation plans, which are a key local vehicle for strategic planning.
  • The local transformation plans for services for children and young people.
  • The local suicide prevention plans.
  • The five-year data plan providing improved data on prevalence, incidence, outcomes and prevention.
  • The national prevention concordat and the local prevention plans, which will sit under this. The prevention concordat is to be launched by March 2017 so that localised plans can be put into place over 2017/18.

Prevention will be advanced by the vital investment in perinatal mental health services (as host of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, the Foundation particularly welcomes this development); initiatives around the physical health of people with serious mental health problems as well as the mental health of people with long term conditions; and focus on a healthy NHS workforce.

To improve the mental health of the nation we urgently need to give attention to those who face the greatest mental health inequalities. We look forward to the appointment of an Equalities Champion, who will spearhead this vital aspect to achieving real change. We want to see a cross-government mental health agenda to achieve the right changes to the wider systems that can support good mental health within justice, education, housing, social security, employment and local government.