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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The Royal College at the political party conferences

These were the first conferences since the shock Brexit vote and Theresa May’s coronation as our new Prime Minister. It was therefore vital that we were there to get our message across that mental health needs to be a priority and not let the Conservatives get too distracted by arguments over ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit – or the Labour Party get too distracted by arguing about everything else.

In Theresa May’s first speech, standing outside Number 10, she said that it was a burning injustice that if you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand. We wanted to make sure there was action behind her speech and decided to gather the most influential people in the health sector at Conservative Party conference to discuss what steps need to be taken to end this injustice. This gave us an hour and a half to brief the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, and pitch policy proposals on how mental health needs to be prioritised. By the end of the meeting his note book was full of hastily scribbled notes so hopefully he found the meeting as useful as we did.

With the Children and Adolescent Faculty soon to launch a new report on value based commissioning, we decided to use the party conferences as an opportunity to build interest amongst politicians and experts who can help turn their recommendations into reality. Working with Young Minds and the Education Policy Institute we hosted roundtables at the Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative Party Conferences where we shared the early findings of the report with key stakeholders including Norman Lamb MP, Paul Farmer from MIND, Lord Mike Watson Labour Education lead in the Lords, Julie Ward MEP and James Morris MP (Parliamentary Private Secretary to Jeremy Hunt). The full report ‘What really matters in children and young people’s mental health’ is being launched in the House of Lords on 7th November.

As well as hosting roundtables, we made sure that wherever a relevant policy issue was being discussed at the party conferences, one of our members was there to make the case for better mental health support. Speaking at alternate fringe events organised by the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health, Dr Jon Goldin and Dr Julie Crocombe spoke about the importance of intervening early to support children’s mental health.

We also had members speaking at a large number of roundtables organised by other organisations. These included the Royal College of Physicians breakfast to discuss issues affecting the NHS workforce, the NSPCC lunch to discuss how to improve local commissioning of mental health services for children that have been abused or neglected, the Royal College GPs roundtable on people living with multiple conditions and the Royal College of Surgeons event to discuss how we can protect the morale of the NHS workforce.

Last but not least, we made sure that we sat down to discuss mental health policy with as many of the key politicians and party policy advisers as we could grab. This included discussing how we can recruit more psychiatrists with the new Department of Health Minister Philip Dunne, finding out what the different parties were planning with the relevant health policy advisers, meeting the President of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health Luciana Berger MP and sitting down with the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt.

They say that a week is a long time in politics. Well I can tell you spending three weeks attending political party conferences can feel like a life time. I therefore want to send out a big thank you to Dr Juli Crocombe, Dr Jon Goldin, Dr Peter Hindley, Dr Bernadka Dubicka and Professor Simon Wessely for joining me at the conferences this year and making sure the voice of the College is heard loud and clear.

Jonathan Blay, Public Affairs Manager, Royal College of Psychiatrists


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