Last week, I made a speech in the Lords on why we need to enshrine access to mental health in law in the NHS constitution. You can read the full text of my speech here.
In the debate on the gracious Speech I said that equal access to mental healthcare should be enshrined in legislation. At present, apart from a general reference to parity of esteem between mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, the only specific pieces of mental health legislation of which I am aware are the Mental Health Acts 1983 and 2007 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and they deal with completely different issues. So while not generally supporting the use of legislation to send policy signals, my sense, backed up by everything I have heard in the debate today, is that legislation in some form or legislative underpinning is needed to achieve the fundamental culture change we need.
One way of achieving this, in my view, would be for waiting times and access standards to be included in the NHS constitution and the handbook to it which the Secretary of State and all NHS bodies are required to take account of. Then people would know that it is an entitlement, not an aspiration or a discretionary matter subject to funding and other priorities. At present, waiting times and access standards are contained only in the NHS mandate, which does not have the same status.