Fears government has rejected call for mental health service user “tsar”

The government’s national director of mental health has rejected calls for a service user “tsar”.

This is according to the Social Perspectives Network, an organisation pushing for more “social” interventions in mental health services.

The government’s national director for learning disabilities, Rob Greig, last month appointed Nicola Smith as a new learning disability “tsar”. Ms Smith is herself disabled.

Now, the Social Perspective Network wants Prof Louis Appleby, the national director for mental health, to make an equivalent mental health service user appointment.

In a letter to Prof Appleby they argued that the appointment of a mental health service user tsar would give a “powerful message” that people who experience mental distress should be listened to “as equals at all levels of their engagement with the mental health system.”

The network’s director Terry Bamford added that such an appointment would ensure “the voice of service users is heard in major deliberations about policy and practice.”

However, Prof Appleby wrote back emphasising that there are already a number of mental health service users working for the Department of Health, the government’s National Institute for Mental Health and mental health NHS trusts.

“People with learning disabilities have not previously had the same profile across the department of health and the NHS so I think the two situations are different,” argued Prof Appleby.

He said that, in addition, many service user organisations help shape mental health care around the UK.

Judy Foster and Stewart Hendry, co-chairs of the network, now fear Prof Appleby has rejected outright the worth of a mental health service user tsar.

In a second letter to Prof Appleby, they wrote: “We would urge you to keep open the possibility rather than reject it as unnecessary.”

They accused Prof Appleby of not appreciating “the symbolic impact” of the appointment of a mental health service user tsar.

The Social Perspectives Network is part-funded by the government’s National Institutue for Mental Health

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