Open Letter to Government calling for a “historic” commitment to mental health in England’s new public health strategy

Eighteen leading Mental Health Charities and Social Enterprises write to Secretary of State for Health

Leading mental health charities and social enterprises have today called on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to consult widely on the future of public health in England.

The letter - signed by 18 charities including the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, the Samaritans, Rethink and YoungMinds, calls for mental health to be placed at the heart of future public health strategy and action in England.

The letter describes this as an opportunity to make a “historic” change by putting mental health at the heart of the strategy – alongside physical health.

The decision to abolish and restructure the health improvement functions of Public Health England (PHE) with a National Institute of Health Protection in the midst of an infectious disease pandemic has been described by the coalition as “extraordinary.”

In the adjoining statement sent to the Health Secretary today, the 18 leaders express concerns that this decision has potential to be deeply damaging to both public mental health and to wider physical health improvement, which have so far received little attention in government statements on these reforms. 

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation commented: “We are at a major turning point for public health: we believe the Coronavirus pandemic is the first time in history that the mental health aspects of a public health crisis have been so prominent. 

“It has arguably never been more important to invest in co-ordinated, well-resourced, and sustained action to safeguard the population’s mental health. Mental ill-health remains the biggest contributor to overall population ill-health in the UK, and the health of our society depends on making a commitment to protecting and supporting our collective mental health.”

In a joint statement, the mental health leaders emphasise the need for a “health improvement function with stature and influence, capable of delivering sustained population health gains for a generation”.

They are also calling for more funding for public mental health. To date, only 1-2% of local public health budgets have historically been dedicated to public mental health.[i]

Mr Rowland added: “We are urging government to learn from the challenges of the pandemic to make an important and historic change to how we plan for and deliver improved public mental health in England. Without a far-reaching consultation to build an effective new system, the physical and mental health of millions of people around the country will be at greater risk.”

The coalition has identified five provisions that the outcomes of the government’s consultation process must address:

1. A new public health system that gives parity to mental health

2. National leadership from an influential expert body independent of government and the NHS that coordinates intelligence-sharing on public mental health. 

3. A public mental health strategy with a core focus on better population mental health and reducing inequalities and the social and economic risks to mental health, including racial and other forms of discrimination

4. A clear relationship between the new public health body and the National Institute of Health Protection which itself must include public mental health leadership and expertise in its structure and responsibilities, recognising the mental health impacts of communicable disease pandemics.

5. Enhanced funding for public health improvement an analysis by the Health Foundation found that an extra £0.9 billion a year is required to reverse real term per capita cuts since 2015/16 and over £2bn a year extra is needed to allow additional investment in the most deprived areas where there is greatest need. 


Read the full letter and statement

Notes to editors:

Interviews are available on request.

For further information and interview requests contact Muireann Kirby in the Mental Health Foundation Press Office on 07761274159 or at [email protected] or [email protected] 

Full list of co-signatories to letter and statement:

Mark Rowland - Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation

Also for and on behalf of:

  • Julie Bentley, CEO, Samaritans
  • Simon Blake, CEO, Mental Health First Aid
  • Brian Dow CEO, Mental Health UK
  • Sean Duggan, CEO, NHS Confederation Mental Health Network
  • Paul Farmer, CEO, Mind
  • Victoria Hornby, CEO, Mental Health Innovations
  • Sarah Hughes, CEO, Centre for Mental Health
  • Poppy Jaman, CEO, City Mental Health Alliance
  • Dr Adrian James, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Chris Martin, CEO, The Mix
  • Paula Ojok, CEO, Helplines Partnership
  • Kathy Roberts, CEO, Association of Mental Health Providers
  • Catherine Roche, CEO, Place2Be
  • Michael Samuel, Chair, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families
  • Rosie Tressler, CEO, Student Minds
  • Emma Thomas, CEO, YoungMinds
  • Mark Winstanley, CEO, Rethink


  1. 1.81% in 2019/20, or £60m