Parity of esteem: will it finally happen?

Each year, the New Savoy Psychological Therapies Conference adopts a theme – and this year was no different. The phrase on everyone’s lips, mentioned by almost every speaker, was parity of esteem.

Parity of esteem simply means valuing mental health equally with physical health. It was launched by NHS England in 2013 as a new guiding principle for mental health provision.

But our speakers wanted more than that. Yes they would like more of the NHS pot and an assurance that spending on mental health would at least keep pace with increases in acute sector budgets. But they also want more integration with community services and an end to all varieties of postcode lottery.

And Psychological Therapies 2015 wouldn’t be a New Savoy Conference without continual references to choice and the benefits of other treatment modalities outside CBT, the primary intervention prescribed for NHS services in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. It’s all very well they say, having parity of esteem and achieving equality of access for mental health services, but it doesn’t help if they’re not the mental health services you need. If you have cancer then there are potentially options to treat with surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy and individuals will appropriately take a different path depending on their individual circumstances. Mental health treatment should behave in the same way.

Jeremy Clarke, the conference chair, pulled off a major coup by getting representatives of all three major political parties to share the same platform to discuss mental health issues. And guess what? They all wanted parity of esteem in its various guises. The only question was whether one wanted more parity—or parity more quickly—than the others. But in the run up to a general election the rhetoric inevitably takes over, and we can’t be sure on this one. In the end, money talks and the dragons had left conveniently their piles of cash back at the Treasury.

So there are lots of things to gain parity about; esteem for our politicians being yet another. But if all this rhetoric really proves to be more than just pre-election shroud-waving then perhaps we will really see a seismic evolution in our mental health services. Quick, let’s do it before the next government realises it has no money…