A COMMITTEE tasked with ensuring the Cumbrian public receives the best possible health services has heard a call to give mental health patients the same opportunities as anybody else.

Cumbria’s Health Scrutiny Committee met in Carlisle on Tuesday to discuss a number of issues affecting services in the county.

David Muir, group director at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust attended the meeting to discuss the pressures facing mental health services in the area.

And Mr Muir told councillors that NHS leaders are trying to address a lack of parity for mental health services.

Chris Whiteside, councillor for Egremont North and St Bees, agreed that while society has come a long way, more work needs to be done to break the stigma around mental health.

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Cllr Whiteside said: “I don’t think either the stigma or the lack of priority is nearly as bad as it was when I was a teenage volunteer helping out at a mental health hospital or when in my twenties and thirties I acted as a manager for the purposes of mental health appeals.

“At that stage it was a subject nobody dared to talk about.”

Cllr Whiteside said that in those days, mental health patients were ostracised.

“Care in the community got massive resistance from local communities who stigmatised all mental health patients as dangerous. Thank God we’re nothing like as bad as that now but there is still a stigma.”

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Cllr Phil Dew said: “The parity of esteem you talked about, Cllr Whiteside touched on how people see the mental health service. Is it how the public perceive or how staff perceive the mental health service?”

Mr Muir said: “I think within our system there’s an absolute acknowledgement from system partners around the work mental health services do.

But he said: “The measure that I use is you don’t see any dramas on a Saturday night about a psychiatric ward. It’s all about A&Es.

“From a public perception, not a lot of people understand what goes on in a mental health hospital.

“It’s already been said, a lot of the hospitals were on the periphery of cities and towns. But when you look at most of our main hospital sites now, the community has come to us, they’ve build houses right up to the front door of the hospital.”

Mr Muir said national campaigns from figures like Prince Harry have helped to break the stigma.

“But when it comes down to it, when we talk about parity, if you’ve got a serious mental illness your longevity of life is different to someone without.

“Parity of esteem goes beyond peripheral things, it’s really ingrained in terms of people’s access to services, their treatment when they’re in services, the ability to support those individuals.”

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