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A lack of interest? Mental Health and the Department of Health Responsibility Deal


The Department of Health Responsibility Deal has been in the news recently as it has claimed credit for reaching agreement with the food industry to remove one and a half olympic swimming pools worth of fat from our diet each year. Now I don’t know whether this is a big figure or not – because I don’t know how many olympic swimming pools of fat we eat each year. Nonetheless this coup allows the Department of Heath to say:

“The Responsibility Deal brings government and industry together to tackle public health issues and improve the health of the nation.”

Lets look at a less high profile area – but arguably one where the potential for impact on peoples lives is far greater – the Responsibility Deal “Mental Health and Wellbeing Pledge

This pledge aims to “ensure that employers are committed to creating an organisational culture where staff felt valued, respected and able to flourish. The new pledge includes promoting wellbeing and resilience and challenging stigma and discrimination.”

This is a pledge that is not just about supporting people with mental health problems stay in work but is also about creating an organisational culture thats supports good mental health for all.

While the food industry example might appear to be ambitious with DH claiming that over half of the food manufacturing and retail industry have signed up, the mental health pledge actually needs to be even more ambitious this needs to affect all employers.

So it is slightly surprising that so far only 60 organisations have signed up! There is clearly a long way to go. The organisations who have signed up are a mixture of very big private sector companies (for example SERCO) and very small local businesses.

They are also a surprising mixture of statutory, private, and voluntary sectors. The 60 signatories break down as follows: We can see that the private sector makes up approximately one third of signatories, with Government Departments and NHS Trusts making up slightly more than this and the Voluntary and Community Sector comprising just under a third with the remainder being taken up by 1 local authority and 2 educational institutions.

I have created a  full list of signatories by sector which is here – Mental Health Responsibility Deal Membership by Sector

This is not system change!

Unfortunately the situation is worse than this. Of the 60 who have signed up to the pledge more than 20 have not published their delivery plan on the website. That means that over one third have not actually committed publicly to any action at all!

So as the following web links show organisations who have not submitted delivery plans (if they had been submitted they would be highlighted in blue as a live link) include:

Never mind the width feel the quality!

Things get worse – there is a real variation in the quality of the actions that the remainder have committed to. I am not an expert in this field but it seems to me that there is a clear distinction between standard good HR practice – having systems in place to support individuals with mental health problems and transformational organisational culture that takes employee wellbeing – in particular their mental health – seriously.

A quick scan through the delivery plans of the remaining two thirds who have shared them shows on my count that just over 30 have in place some sort of HR policy that supports people with Mental Health problems and just over 20 have a wider ambition for culture change within the organisation and plans to address this.

I have created a full list of delivery plans by organisation which is available here – Responsibility Deal – Mental Health Delivery Plans from this it seems that only one third of the organisations who have signed up to this pledge have any plans to try to meet it!

What does this mean?

Having read through all of this stuff the first thing to say is that there are some organisations who clearly take this issue really seriously. So, purely on the basis of what they have committed organisations that I take my hat off to include:

I have no idea what if feels like to work in these organisations – but their plans and intent seem good. However, I have to say that I would be a bit disappointed if I was in the list above and found that that organisations where who appear to be doing little are able to appear as co-signatories. That does rather devalue the commitment given by responsible organisations.

It is important to note that aside from SERCO other big outsourcing companies such as ATOS and A4E have not signed up to this pledge at all. It might be reasonable to expect government contracts to be conditional on employers supporting a pledge such as this?


I touched on this issue in a blog a year ago. Presumably one of the main reasons for publishing this information on the website is to motivate and encourage organisations to join. I have tried to demonstrate in this post that the way information is presented on the website means that it is very hard to get a clear view about what the real picture is with regard to:

I suspect that if I were to look at other pledges I would find the same deficits I have identified here, which does make me rather sceptical of the government’s trans-fat claims that I mentioned at the start of the blog.  The way in which the information is presented, the poverty of analysis, the lack of quality control speaks not of responsibility but of lack of support and disinterest….by the Department of Health.

What do you think?

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