We welcome the long-awaited Government Prevention Green Paper: Advancing our health: Prevention in the 2020s, published by the Cabinet Office, jointly with the Department of Health and Social Care, last night.
With prevention being one of the Minister for Health Matt Hancock’s three priorities, it is a positive step to see the paper take a broad approach to improving the nation’s health in the 2020s covering important areas such as mental health, smoking, weight management, substance misuse – all of which also increase the likelihood of a person experiencing poor mental health. There has long been a need for greater emphasis on prevention, especially of the development or worsening of mental health conditions. but the details on actions and concrete commitments outlined in this paper are limited.
We are pleased to see the focus on social determinants, which have an enormous impact on a person’s physical and mental health. However, in relation to mental health, we would have welcomed a greater focus on community mental health care, especially the role of the voluntary and community organisations in providing preventative services. As its coproducers, the inclusion of the Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health as a case study is an excellent example of the VCSE sector working with statutory services to take local and national action to achieve the aim for better mental health for all. The focus on local suicide prevention plans is also welcomed, and we continue to support this work at the local level through the lens of health inequalities.
With acknowledgement of the section on tackling risk factors and strengthening protective factors for mental health, we believe the paper should have gone further to outline plans to address health inequalities. Whilst the Paper sets out some measurable goals for the NHS to narrow inequalities through service improvements, there needs to be a greater focus on poverty, discrimination, isolation, housing, and justice – and the plans cannot solely be seen through the lens of the NHS or Local Authorities but the value of the voluntary and community sector in addressing health inequalities at local, regional, and national level must also be recognised.
It is vital that the Government takes whole-system and whole-person approach and as “health is a shared responsibility”, there needs to be better cross-departmental collaboration with Government departments taking ownership of non-health policies to ensure these don’t place a person’s mental health at risk. We welcome Public Health England’s involvement in the development of this paper, and it is now vital that there is investment in both public health and social care “for prevention to succeed, and to improve the nation’s health”.
As a consultative document, we welcome the initial steps outlined and look forward to working with the new Government to build on the proposals, in delivering the prevention agenda, and ensuring the voluntary and community sector as a planning and delivery partner in mental health services is utilised.