Elections have been all the rage in the UK recently. Most have an impact on us, our work and all those who seek our support.
One, however, has the greatest bearing on CPUK and mental health services in general. The election in question is the one that has commanded the fewest column inches.
Rather less talked about than the General Election, votes about Brexit and the Labour leadership race, the appointment of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ latest president has gone all but unnoticed amongst the general population.
But make no mistake about it: for those with a stake in mental health matters, be it as patients or as professionals, this is a significant development indeed.
Dr Adrian James is due to take office this summer – with Professor Wendy Burn preparing to stand down after three years in the post.
The incoming president’s number one election promise was to focus on establishing greater parity between physical and mental health.
For all those who work in mental health services, this is the crux – the main issue that demands to be addressed and the greatest obstacle that must be cleared in order to provide the help and support that is needed, perhaps more so now than ever.
Dr James’s ambition is a noble one indeed.
Whether he can achieve all that he has set out to remains to be seen.
The proof will be in the pudding and our view is that if Dr James can at least get the ball rolling and close the widening gap that exists between physical and mental health services in the UK, it will represent a good start.
“This is a pivotal time for psychiatry,” explains the man who will soon hold the most senior post in the College. “I will focus my energies on achieving parity of esteem, addressing workplace wellbeing and championing diversity and the needs of marginalised groups.”
Leadership has been a matter much discussed during the so-called Election Season. In sending out such a strong message, Dr James has provided clear direction and shown that, beyond all doubt, he means business.
Can he succeed? Will things improve and failings be addressed at last? The intentions are honourable, but the challenges that lie ahead will be immense.
There’s an obvious need to increase funding to mental health services (especially where children and young people are concerned), with the demand huge (and growing), but resources in short supply.
Campaigning is one thing, and it’s always important to raise awareness and understanding. This must now be matched by action – starting with a fairer distribution of funding, with mental health services crying out for more time, resources and support to meet rising needs.
Mental health is high amongst the general public’s priorities and this must be translated into greater resources – both for frontline clinical services and research. Including all specialities, filling the obvious gaps and providing positive results for patients, those who matter most.
Dr James has vowed to fight for a better deal for mental health.
In this fight, we’re right behind him.
The resourcing is of paramount importance, but for those seeking change, it’s not all about money.
Good mental health services depend on good people, and recruitment into psychiatry is poor. Whilst fulfilling, this is a less glamorous speciality than certain others and with services under-resourced and so job satisfaction dropping, retention is suffering like never before. Good people can be recruited, but once in post, they must be retained. For this, working conditions must improve dramatically. Fail on this front and, regardless of hopes, things will not improve, and problems will persist.
Dr James has three years in which to make his mark and, given all that is at stake – for us, as mental health professionals and, ultimately, for our patients and their families – we’d like to wish him well during his presidency.
The election is over, and the campaign has been won.
For mental health services, the hard work starts here.