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Bringing mental health services in line with physical health services will take “a generation”, the health secretary has admitted, despite the government having promised to achieve it by 2020. Amid widespread concerns over the state of Britain’s mental health services, Matt Hancock said it would take years to fulfil ministers’ pledge to achieve “parity of esteem”.

It comes as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, prepares to deliver a Budget that will include a cash boost for mental health services.

£2bn of the government’s £20bn of additional funding for the NHS will be used to provide specialist mental health support in every A&E department, more specialist ambulances and mental health teams in schools.

But Mr Hancock’s admission will prompt concerns over the pace of improvements to services, which mental health professionals say are at breaking point.

The Coalition government committed to achieving “parity of esteem” by 2020 and enshrined the aim in law in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.

But asked when he expected the promise to be met, the health secretary said it was “the work of a generation” and would not necessarily be achieved within the NHS’s next ten-year plan.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “This plan is over a ten year period. The work to put mental health services on the same footing as physical health services is the work of a generation.”

Asked about figures showing that, by 2020/21, two-thirds of children will not have access to the mental health services they need, he said: “I think that if we had those sort of figures for physical illnesses then people would rightly be up in arms and so we’re going to tackle that, absolutely.”

Mr Hancock has previously admitted that there remains a significant gap between mental health and physical health services, saying: “It’s still way off where we need to be.” Read more

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