By Deborah Orr/London
Theresa May is busy enacting the “will of the people”, seemingly unaware that she’s not actually in her own elevated position due to the “will of the people” at all. And the nation is looking on, mesmerised. We may look back on this period in British politics and marvel at how the country was so busy leaving Europe that it failed to see the disasters waiting to happen at home.
On mental health, the Tories need to put their money where their mouths are.
Every winter sees an NHS crisis. For years now, that crisis has been getting a little bit worse. But, as in the horrible theory of “boiling a frog”, the incrementally increasing danger becomes part of the environment. By the time the point of no return is passed, it’s too late to do anything other than submit to a fate that had always been predictable and could have been avoided if only the grave danger had been identified in time.
Media reports are becoming more urgent. There are the numbers, a flurry of them in the last 24 hours alone: 19 hospitals facing closure; 24 accident and emergency units earmarked for downgrading or closure; 150 hospitals failing to meet planned targets for daytime nursing levels; the NHS needing £9.5bn to secure its future.
There are the human stories, coming equally thick and fast: ill babies waiting on floors; cancer patients lambasting the start-stop service they got with their dying breaths; pensioners on trolleys, or even in storerooms; a kid being taken to hospital in a fire engine.
And there are the warnings of further trouble to come: junior doctors quitting in far larger numbers than ever before; midwives as rare in some parts of the country as hen’s teeth; bed-blocking due to lack of social care more prevalent than ever.
There’s so much bickering and arguing, about funding, about efficiency, about money, about targets, that there simply never seems to be the time or the inclination to do anything more than cobble together emergency treatment for the NHS itself. As soon as that seems to have temporarily averted the crisis, other discussions, perhaps more crucial to the long-term health of the service, rumble on, their own urgency deemed comparatively exaggerated.
Yet we know that a lack of social care creates more acute illness, more work for the health service and leaves people with nowhere to go when their immediate illness has been treated. We know, too, that the marginalisation of mental health services, especially for the young, leaves people struggling along with poor self-care – a neglect of diet and exercise, a vulnerability to addiction or other forms of self-harm, a constant struggle with stress and worry – that profoundly damages long-term health.
The NHS needs a rethink. When it was originally conceived, the idea was that it would make us more healthy. Instead, it just helps us to survive death to live longer, always in need of healthcare support. Above all, mental healthcare – and at an early stage – needs to become a priority, not an afterthought, so that people can liberate themselves from the psychological anguish that causes them to lose touch with the needs of their bodies.
Young people suffering from eating disorders, for example, wait months, even years, until they are in a bad enough state to get the support they needed all along. By then, they’ve damaged their health enough to make future health problems almost guaranteed. And this is one of the more obvious examples of how neglecting mental health causes a breakdown in physical health. The parallels with what is happening in the minds and bodies of our young people and what is happening to the NHS itself are there to be seen. But like the parents of children with mental health problems, we’re too glad that the immediate crisis has been averted to ask why the fundamental difficulties weren’t recognised for so long.
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