Tory ministers have admitted their new “minister for suicide prevention” doesn’t yet have a firm budget or target, despite being unveiled with fanfare on World Mental Health Day.
Downing Street trumped the new title for Jackie Doyle-Price, who is already a mental health minister, in an announcement to help the vulnerable.
But grilled on the details, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted she will now have to fight for her own budget within the department while the NHS draws up a £20bn long-term plan before Christmas.
Asked what it would take to help mental health sufferers if money was no object, he said: “Well, that’s a really good question, but money IS an object.”
Mr Hancock also failed to commit, when asked, to a firm target of everyone being seen within two to four weeks.
He said he wanted people to be “seen within weeks rather than months” but said a firm target will only be made as part of the NHS plan.
Instead he told BBC Radio 4 he would “follow the clinical advice and get the details of this right”.
Asked what Ms Doyle-Price’s suicide prevention budget would be, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We’re in the middle of deciding what that should be.
“So it’s exactly the right time to have the new minister so she can argue for this cause amongst all the other good causes to spend taxpayers’ money on within the NHS.”
Asked if her first job was to argue for her own budget, he said: “Yes.
“And I’m obviously very supportive of her doing that.”
Today The Times reported just a quarter of children with a diagnosable mental health condition receive treatment or counselling.
And yesterday the National Audit Office said the Government may be “even further away than it thought” from achieving its goal of equal access to physical and mental health services for young people.
The NAO said even if current initiatives are delivered as planned, there would still be “significant unmet need” for mental health care.
Around 4,500 people take their lives every year in England and suicide remains the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45.
Today PM Theresa May also pledged £1.8 million to ensure the Samaritans’ helpline remains free for the next four years, to help those most in need.
“We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence,” she said.
“We can prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives.
“And we can give the mental wellbeing of our children the priority it so profoundly deserves.”
But some charities argued the government’s job was to take action, not just “end the stigma”.
The Children’s Commissioner welcomed Mrs May’s announcement, but added: “We need to see urgent action and implementation now.
“We cannot afford to wait five years, which feels like a lifetime to a young child.”
Labour’s shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley said: “A focus on suicide prevention is long overdue given the appalling increase in suicide rates since 2010, particularly among young people.
“But it also needs proper funding of front line services.
“Mental health services are still being underfunded by the Conservative Government.
“One in 10 CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) [are] failing to meet the mental health investment standard in the last year.
“That is leading to adults having to wait as many as four months for treatment in certain areas, while one in four children are being rejected for treatment after referral.”
Mr Hancock admitted: “Access to mental health services in a decent amount of time happens about in one in four cases.
“Now if that was the case for a physical illness, like cancer or a hip operation, then people would rightly say that’s not good enough.”