Equally Well UK wrote to Rt Hon Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health with the following letter on the 7 August 2020:
Dear Mr Hancock,
We are writing to you as the hosts and leaders of the Equally Well UK collaborative to ask you to consider as a matter of urgency ensuring that people with severe mental illness are given priority for this autumn’s flu immunisation programme.
As you know, people living with a severe mental illness have a 15-20 year shorter life expectancy than average in the UK. This is largely due to having poorer physical health, including a three times higher rate of diabetes than the general population and twice the rate of asthma, chronic lung disease and heart disease*.
People with long-term mental health problems do not always get the help they need for their physical health, including access to preventive care. Targets for Physical Health Checks for those with severe mental illness have been missed, with progress further interrupted by Covid-19. This makes people with a mental illness especially vulnerable to seasonal flu.
We would ask that priority for immunisation is therefore extended to people who are on GP severe mental illness registers in England. This group represents less than 1% of the practice population, some but not all of whom may already get priority as a result of other factors. Proactively reaching out to people with severe mental illness to ensure they are offered immunisation will save lives at only a marginal extra cost to the NHS.
We urge you to act on this important matter. Not only will it have immediate benefits in reducing the risk of flu this winter, it will signal the Government’s commitment to closing the health gap and bringing parity of esteem a step closer.
Professor Wendy Burn, Clinical Chair, Equally Well UK
Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health
Kevin James, Expert by Experience Group Chair, Equally Well UK
Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness