Letters: working together on mental health

Claire Murdoch: ‘Mental health is everyone’s responsibility.’

 Claire Murdoch: ‘Mental health is everyone’s responsibility.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

As a mental health nurse since 1984, stories like this never get easier to read (“Suicidal children face long delays for mental health care”, News). One delay is one too many but context is vital too.

Your article was based on a small audit from a single London hospital, using outdated information going back four years. There was precious little explanation about how mental health services are improving or what is driving demand for care. In London alone, the number of young people’s mental health beds are up almost 25% since 2017.

Nationally, 126 more beds have opened in areas of greatest need – with plans for another 40 within weeks. We know from listening to young people and their families that they want specialist support closer to home. The NHSlong-term plan is ramping up community care, investing in earlier support through schools-based counselling and introducing new waiting time standards.

Widening access by 70,000 more children and young people each year by 2020/21 is just the start. By 2023/24, an extra 345,000 more children and young people will get help each year, backed by annual funding increases that will outpace the overall growth in health spending over the next five years.

Significant progress is being made but mental health is everyone’s responsibility. We now need wider society to stand side by side with the NHS and look take a long, hard look at what more we can do together to protect young people’s wellbeing.
Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health at NHS England

Winter is coming

Michael Mann says that an outcome of global warming and climate change is the occurrence of more heat records and that polar vortices may have the same cause (“Using the big freeze to deny climate change… stupidity or cynicism?” Comment). I agree. However, global warming and climate change are benign terms, so I suggest that we use global weather chaos (GWC) to describe the frequent worldwide extremes of polar vortices, blizzards, hurricanes, floods, droughts, heatwaves and forest fires. Today’s high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and, thus, temperature rises are clearly partly linked to human-related emissions.

Could today’s GWC be evidence of an Earth pushed to new extremes? Could a great CO2 “crash” occur for as yet unknown reasons and usher in a rapid glacial era? I like Mann’s phrase “weaponisation of ignorance”. Maybe, if fast freezing was considered a remote but possible outcome, his “ill-informed citizenry” might be more ready to act now to promote reductions in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Game of Thrones might be right: winter is coming.
Rod Allan
Burlington, Ontario

Hobsbawm’s choice

Neal Ascherson tells us that Eric Hobsbawm had an “exasperating and exasperated” relationship with the Communist party of Great Britain, never “quite beyond the pale” but always on the edge, sustained in part by an internal “criticism of the leadership” (“The radical whose faith never wavered”, the New Review). Yet this was a man who, Ascherson also tells us, backed the Nazi-Soviet pact and the USSR’s invasion of Finland, and expressed sympathy for Feliks Dzierżyński, head of the murderous Soviet secret police.

As Ascherson doesn’t say, he also stayed in the CPGB, despite Khrushchev’s “secret speech” in 1956, and remained a CPGB member almost until the wall came down. In which case, one has to ask what service Hobsbawm might have performed for the party had he been less of an alleged dissident and more a wholly committed ideologue.
Terry Philpot
Limpsfield Chart, Surrey

The ethics of arts funding

Peter Bazalgette, former chair of Arts Council England, now executive chairman of ITV, thinks “BP have been magnificent supporters of the arts” and “would happily take money from them” (“Can the arts afford to be too fussy about how sponsors make their money?”, Focus). Why? Because he can “see everyone driving around in cars, so I think that is reasonable”.

Ruth Mackenzie, the British arts director and curator and London head for the Arts Council, is of the same mind, saying: “We should agree there is no such thing as totally clean money. After all, I don’t ask the people buying tickets for my shows where their money comes from.”

Would Bazalgette have the same view in America – we see people everywhere with guns, so it is reasonable to take money from arms manufacturers? Maybe he and Mackenzie should take into account the fact that air pollution in London is the cause of 9,000 premature deaths each year and where the annual limit for car pollutants is exceeded within the first few weeks.

Private funding can be good for arts organisations, but it can also be precarious. Arts leaders should be leading the call for ethical partners and leading campaigns against cuts in funding for Arts Council England.

You may not know where your customers get their money, but you should do your best to ensure your own hands are clean. This isn’t something to be flippant about; for many, it’s a matter of life and death.
Mike Morris
Toxteth, Liverpool

Crisis in further education

While I appreciate that schools are under budgetary pressure (“Schools staff crisis looms as teachers’ salaries fall by 10%”, News), there is a bigger crisis in our further education colleges. Schools received extra funding for a 3.5% pay award this year; FE colleges did not. Schools received funding for “little extras” in the last budget; FE colleges did not. Funding for FE colleges has been frozen since 2013. Teachers in FE colleges are paid on average £7,000 less than teachers in schools.

It is becoming impossible for colleges to attract and keep the skilled staff they need, particularly in areas such as engineering and construction. Many FE teachers stay through loyalty to their students and the college, but this is unsustainable.

If we are to train the post-Brexit generation of skilled individuals, we must be able to pay our staff properly. This requires additional and sustained increases to the funding rate per student. The country’s future depends on providing high-quality training and that depends on being able to attract and retain skilled FE teachers.
Dr Alison Birkinshaw, principal and CEO, York College

Football and Brexit entwined

Anthony Clavane’s article about football as a refuge from economic woes misses one important point (“‘Football brings people together. But it won’t feed us if Nissan goes’”, News). In the last three seasons, almost all teams relegated from the top flight of English football have come from a Brexit supporting town, most notably Sunderland, whose decline from grace post the Brexit vote has been faster than Nissan’s.

Not much of a refuge if your team, whether Sunderland, Stoke City, West Brom, Swansea, Middlesbrough or Villa, disappears from the top division, while it doesn’t look much better for Brexit-supporting Huddersfield now.
Tom Cannon

To the Tower with him!

Question: “What now for David Cameron?” (The New Review, last week). Answer: the Tower of London?
Tony Donajgrodzki 
Clitheroe, Lancashire




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