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Jeremy Hunt confronted about Panorama's Mental health crisis coverage

8 February 2017

Luciana Berger, former shadow mental health minister, has told health secretary Jeremy Hunt that the findings of a special investigation BBC programme into mental health services, which focused on Norfolk and Suffolk, were “shocking and disgusting”.

The programme in question, Panorama, aired on 7 February, highlighting how a sharp rise in the number of mental health patients dying unexpectedly with the responsible organisation cutting nearly a quarter of its inpatient beds.

Panorama explained how the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust cut 136 psychiatric beds from 2012 onwards – even though demand continued to rise. An unexpected death is classed as one where the cause could not be anticipated (death by suicide, neglect and misadventure)

Ms Berger said: 'members across this house might have seen that documentary last night and frankly it was shocking and disgusting, and I am ashamed to live in a country where there have been a thousand more unexpected deaths. It is not a reflection of a country that cares equally about mental health as it does about physical health and in spite of what the secretary of state just told us, the money he talks about is not getting to where it is intended. '

Shadow health minister Barbara Keeley added: “Last night, a Panorama programme showed that mental health services are not funded properly...At the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust, funding cuts led to community teams being disbanded, loss of staff and the loss of inpatient psychiatric beds....We don’t need any more warm words from (Mr Hunt). What we need is action to make sure mental health services are properly funded and properly staffed.”

In his response, Jeremy hunt agreed that “a huge amount needed to be done” to improve mental health provision, but said they were committing money, claiming Britain was becoming a “global” leader in mental health provision.

Meanwhile, reacting to the Panorama report, the Centre for Mental Health, like Barbara Keeley, also blames cuts: 'The Panorama broadcast highlights the growing pressures mental health services in England are facing. More people than ever are receiving vital support from specialist mental health services yet budgets have been cut and funding is failing to keep pace with the rest of the NHS...We need to provide far better help for people's physical health to end the scandal of people with mental health problems dying an average of 15-20 years too soon'

The figures shared by Panorama

Thirty-three mental health trusts - which provide most mental health care - out of a total of 57 in England responded to the Panorama Freedom of Information request.

In 2012-13, the trusts reported a total of 2,067 unexpected deaths.

By 2015-16 that had risen to 3,160.

This means that number of unexpected patient deaths reported by England's mental health trusts has risen by almost 50% in three years, figures suggest.

The increase comes at a time of decreased funding for mental health trusts, which provide the bulk of mental health care in England.

Exclusive new analysis for Panorama from the think tank, the Health Foundation, indicates that mental health trusts in England have had their funding cut by £150m over the past four years, compared with a rise in national spending on health of £8bn.

Concerns about current re-design of services

Almost every mental health trust in the country is currently in the process of redesigning its services and restructuring is under way across England as part of 44 STPs or Sustainability and Transformation Plans.

But there is concern about what those redesigns will mean for care.

The President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Sir Simon Wessely, has concerns that services may be about to get worse: "I've been in meetings with chief executives and chairs of trusts who are openly talking about that they'll have to decommission services next year," he said.

"What is I think tragic is that it's the time when we have been promised increased funding and there is no doubt that this is not yet getting to where it is intended."

The Department of Health disputes Panorama's findings

Jeremy Hunt's department doesn't agree with the figures produced by Panorama: '[we] dispute the funding figures used in this programme - just this year, mental health spending by Clinical Commissioning Groups has gone up by £342m, which is on top of an extra £1.4bn allocated in this Parliament."

An NHS spokesperson, said: "The statistics on suicide are clear: for the last decade the suicide rate amongst people in mental health services has been falling, by more than 30% since 2004, most clearly in inpatient services and more recently in community services.

"We do not believe that the figures obtained by the BBC reflects the national data most recently published, which suggests that their figures are incomplete and misleading."

A few words in conclusion

The programme continues in the tradition of describing the current crisis in 'medical model terms', which avoids placing mental health in its social context. People who confronted Jeremy Hunt also seems to avoid addressing the dominance of the medical model. They do however,  directly government's policies and cuts for the difficulties highlighted in Panorama...could this this be a start at placing mental health crisis whitihna wider, social and political context?

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