Charter for Equal Health sets out vision for better physical health support for people with mental health conditions

Date: 13 September 2018
The leaders of more than 50 organisations will assemble today at the Royal College of Nursing in London to sign an historic Charter for Equal Health and launch a new nationwide collaborative, Equally Well UK.

The Charter for Equal Health offers a vision for improved physical health support for anyone living in the UK with a severe mental illness. It sets out how organisations working nationally and locally will tackle one of the biggest inequalities in health anywhere in the UK.

Today, people living with a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia have a life expectancy that is up to 20 years shorter than average. Equally Well UK will bring together organisations that have a part to play in reducing this inequality to take concerted action to achieve significant and sustained change.

Equally Well UK has been set up by Centre for Mental Health in partnership with Rethink Mental Illness and Kaleidoscope Health and Care. It is supported by the Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Psychiatrists, NHS England, Health Education England, Public Health England, NHS Improvement, Royal Collage of Nursing and many more.

More than 50 organisations have already come forward to commit to take action to ensure people with a severe mental illness get the help and support they need for their physical health. They are coming together at the Royal College of Nursing to sign the Charter for Equal Health and make their own pledges for the action they will take.

The event will hear from experts by experience, speaking to Dr Zoe Williams about why equal health matters and what gets in the way. National leaders including Dr Tim Kendall, National Clinical Director for Mental Health, and Dr Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, will also provide their perspectives on what needs to change. The event will also feature Helen Lockett, the leader of Equally Well in New Zealand, on which Equally Well UK is based.

Any organisation working in health and care in the UK is able to join Equally Well UK. For more information and to sign up to the Charter for Equal Health and make your organisation’s pledge, visit our how to join page.

Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health said:

“For too long, inequalities in physical health for people with mental health conditions have been ignored or taken for granted. We want this to change. No one should have their physical health ignored or dismissed just because they have a mental illness. And no one should face a dramatically reduced life expectancy for lack of attention to their physical health. We are supporting and promoting Equally Well UK to help to bring about sustained and significant change across the country in addressing this shocking health inequality.”

Tom Sandford, Royal College of Nursing Director for England, said: “It is both tragic and unjust that people living with a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia have a life expectancy that is up to 20 years shorter than average. The RCN is delighted to be working as part of Equally Well UK to bring together organisations that have a part to play in taking concerted action to reduce this inequality.”

Professor Tim Kendall, national clinical director for mental health at NHS England said: “Improving the life expectancy of people with serious mental health issues needs concerted action from everyone. The launch of Equally Well UK is the perfect platform to raise awareness of this issue by bringing together people with serious mental illness, families and carers, health and care organisations and other partners from the wider sector. NHS England is proud to be one of the founding members and we look forward to seeing the momentum build in the months ahead.”

Professor Wendy Burn, President at RCPsych said: “Nobody with a mental illness should have their life expectancy shortened because their physical health is overlooked. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is pleased to sign the Charter for Equal Health, demonstrating our commitment to the action required so that people with a severe mental illness get the help, support and guidance they need for their physical health. As a part of Equally Well UK, we look forward to working alongside the other organisations to tackle this situation.”

Hannah Moore Equally Well UK Lived Experience Advisory Panel member Said: “One of the reasons I got involved with equally well is because believe that there isn’t enough emphasis on looking after someone’s physical health when they are in hospital for their mental health.”

Philippa Lowe is the Chair of the charity Rethink Mental Illness and has a son with schizophrenia. She says: “ I remember  being very concerned about my son’s weight gain when he started his anti-psychotic medication. When I asked our then psychiatrist about it he said: ‘Let’s get the psychosis under control, then we’ll think about his weight’. I now know that this wasn’t the right approach at all. The most up to date thinking is that physical health should be monitored and encouraged alongside mental health from the word go, and so I’m pleased to see the Equally Well UK project making this a priority. The best medication for my son’s mental health, which has changed his life so positively, has been the worst for his weight. He now weighs twice what he should and the consequences for his health and life expectancy are scary to contemplate.”

RCGP Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “The Royal College of General Practitioners is proud to be founding member of Equally Well UK, as GPs are usually the first point of contact with the NHS for people with mental or physical health issues.  We believe that it is fundamentally important that everyone who accesses healthcare is confident that they will receive the best possible care,  irrespective of the nature of their illness or infirmity, and we are committed to working with others to achieve this aim.”

Anna Howells, Kaleidoscope Health & Care “Kaleidoscope are delighted to be part of Equally Well UK. We want to work towards overcoming inequalities in physical health for people with mental health conditions, and believe that effective collaboration and the sharing of best practice can help with this. We’re looking forward to working with the wealth of organisations involved in Equally Well UK to make change happen.”

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About the Author:

Emma project manages & coordinates Equally Well UK.
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