Labour have pledged to transform mental health services by setting a new NHS target to ensure that patients start receiving appropriate treatment within a month of referral.

In a speech at Labour’s conference, Keir Starmer said he would commit the next Labour Government to a transformative package to meet “one of the most urgent needs of our time”.

This would include a radical expansion of the mental health workforce, resulting in over a million more people receiving support each year, alongside unprecedented investment in children’s mental health after the disruption of the pandemic.

The plan would also aim to improve service quality by bringing in the first ever long-term, whole-Government plan for improving mental health outcomes, making early-intervention a reality, and broadening the range of services to those with severe mental health illnesses. Starmer also pledged to give mental health its fair share of funding.

Currently, two-fifths of patients waiting for mental health treatment are forced to contact emergency or crisis services prior to receiving treatment, with one in ten ending up in A&E.  One in four adults who had to wait after their initial assessment did not begin treatment for three months or more. 

Keir Starmer added: “One of the urgent needs of our time is mental health. Labour will guarantee that support will be available in less than a month and offer treatment to a million more people each year who need it." 

Reducing waiting times for mental heath puts it on more equal footing with physical health

Mental health charity Mind said it was pleased to see some concrete policy proposals about mental health that, if implemented, could make a huge difference to the thousands of people experiencing mental health problems in England - many who have seen their mental health deteriorate because of the pandemic.

Vicki Nash, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs, added: "As record numbers of people seek mental health support from the NHS, a commitment to making sure people are seen within four weeks is exactly what is needed; we know many people's mental health problems get worse while they wait for treatment, with some ending up in crisis. Reducing waiting times for mental health treatment would also put it on a more equal footing with physical health treatment.

"We welcome this ambitious promise, but it would need sufficient funding, including to boost staff numbers, for it to become a reality in the near future."