Nick Clegg, the former deputy Prime Minister, was never someone I had much time for. That was until I accompanied him on a visit to a mental health centre a couple of years ago. For an hour or so, Clegg talked, but mostly listened, to service users as they described their lives with illness. The cycle of being sectioned and then released without proper follow-up had continued for decades. This went beyond the misery of a backed-up waiting list. It was more akin to dozens of miscarriages of justice.
Afterwards, I chatted to Clegg who had a tedious grasp of mental health funding formulae. I took it as a sign of his sincerity. No-one would get that intricate unless they cared, and with the help of his excellent care minister Norman Lamb, he also delivered: from the Crisis Care Concordat, to the introduction of the first waiting times and access standards for mental health.
As we know, none of this saved the Lib Dems from an electoral drubbing, but it was good to see Lamb back again last week, calling the government to account for the number of deaths of patients with mental illness. It’s timely because new figures show demand surging and nurse numbers dropping in mental health, and we need to talk frankly about how we’re going to tackle it. Parity of esteem requires a fully staffed team, and I hope there are more advocates such as Lamb who transcend the political divide, as well as the mental/physical one. The people I met that day deserve nothing less.
Mike Shallcross, acting editor, Independent Nurse