In Liverpool, there have been people who saw people die at close quarters, in unimaginable circumstances and have been walking round for 23 years hearing that in some way they were to blame for what happened. It’s hard to understand the psychological impact of that. I’ve come across so many people over the years who have spoken of their difficulty in dealing with what happened and the way in which the tragedy was portrayed by the police.
On Wednesday, we cleared the names of all Liverpool fans who were there that day, and the value of that can’t be overestimated. The enormity of what was revealed made it more difficult to comprehend. You asked yourself: why hadn’t it been revealed, an injustice on this scale? But there are also deep questions, and the Prime Minister touched on this. The policing system, the coroners’ system, the legal system and the political system all failed to bring out the truth. Why?
In the legal system, people prepare a version of events and then fight it out in court. That is what they tried to do in this case. But because it came at the end of a decade when football supporters were treated as second-class citizens and the police were believed whatever they said, they created a version of events that stuck. When it came to fight out these versions of events in court, the truth wasn’t established.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel has done a magnificent job. It has created a potentially valuable model for government and society in the future, because what it did in a non-adversarial way was to put the emphasis on disclosure, not on two sides fighting their case.
There is also a parallel between Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough. Although the initial events were very different – one involving direct violence in Northern Ireland which left 14 dead, and the other where terrible negligence left 96 dead – the actions of the state in the aftermath were very similar. The effect on the bereaved was also similar: the denigration and the attempts to smear innocent people.
Believing eventually that the “truth will out”, I took the Hillsborough families over to Derry in July via Mark Durkan, the SDLP MP. To hear the two groups of families talk was a humbling experience. But what was interesting was that the Derry families told us that they only eventually got together to fight properly in 1992, 20 years after the shootings.
The SDLP and Sinn Fein put their differences aside and fought as one for 20 years. And on the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough, I went to Anfield and listened as people told me what they wanted. Twenty years – that seems to be the period when people recover enough to eventually demand truth and justice.
If we hadn’t made the call for disclosure when we did, it is unlikely the truth about Hillsborough would have been able to be told in the way it has. We are talking here not so much about Cabinet papers, but papers held at local level by public bodies; every year that passed our inability to retrieve this material increased.
All this came together at the right time and may not have happened with further passage of time. The key thing now is that after truth, must come justice. And that means a new inquest.
I cannot rest until that verdict of accidental death is removed from public record. The case for a new inquest is overwhelming. Only then will we be able to say we have righted one of the greatest injustices on British soil of the 20th century.
The writer is the Merseyside-born shadow Health Secretary and helped set up the Hillsborough Panel
Still no mention of the devastating effects the WCA has on health generally and health specifically. I still don’t have a response from him from an email about the WCA etc sent about 5 weeks ago, but something like progress…. Small steps.
TUC 2012: Later this week the House of Commons will debate a new law to remove the last remaining form of discrimination still enshrined in law.
At present, our law reinforces the outdated prejudice that recovery from mental ill health is not possible. That is wrong and we urgently need to put it right.
The Mental Health Discrimination Bill coming before MPs on Friday will repeal archaic and discriminatory laws.
It will send an important message to all employers that unfair discrimination against people with mental ill health has no place in modern Britain.
More broadly, if people with experience of mental ill health can play a full part in public life, our Parliament, companies and courts will all be richer and fairer places for it and, in time, society’s wider understanding of mental health will be greatly enhanced.
Twenty-first century living demands levels of emotional and mental resilience that our parents and grandparents never needed.
Yet our national stiff-upper-lip tendency not to talk openly about mental health might help to explain why our public services are designed for the 20th century rather than the 21st.
When the NHS was set up, life was different. People faced physical risks – disease or accidents at work – but lived in more close-knit communities.
Working underground exposed people to coal dust, explosions and accidents, and people had no choice but to lock arms, look out for each other and face the dangers together. That is how it was – and that spirit of solidarity was carried over into the streets above.
But life in the 21st century is a reverse of the 20th – physically safer but emotionally harder.
We are living longer, more stressful and isolated lives and coping with constant change. Yet the NHS does not reflect that new reality.
Essentially it remains a postwar production-line model focused on episodic physical care – the stroke, the hip replacement, the cataract – rather than the whole person. That is the issue to confront.
How can a subject that is so central to the big public policy challenges we face as a country still exist on the fringes, getting so little air time and attention?
We are reluctant to talk about mental health as much as we should. But we are all, as a country, beginning to wake up from our complacency.
Labour sees the mental health challenge as central to health policy.
I shared the complacency until several years ago when I spent a day work-shadowing an outreach team.
I will never forget what I was told about the early 1990s, when the mines closed and GP referrals for support were piling up on clinic desks.
There was simply no support to offer people and that lay behind the social collapse in those mining communities, they said.
People facing difficult times were given no help.
Later it was Lord Bradley’s report into mental health problems and learning that further challenged my thinking.
I will never forget reading that approximately 70 per cent of young people in the criminal justice system have an undiagnosed or untreated mental health problem.
If that is not enough to shock us into action, frankly nothing will.
The demands of the modern and ageing society require a change in how we provide health and social care.
We need a whole-person approach that combines not only the physical but the mental and social, if we are to give people the quality of life that we desire for our own families. Mental health must move from the margins to the centre of the NHS.
Mental health services are still the poor relation in the NHS. How can it be that an issue that causes so much suffering and costs our society so much still accounts for only a fraction of the NHS budget?
We also have to consider the separateness of mental health within the NHS.
This has deep social roots – the asylum, the separate place where people with mental health problems were treated, the accompanying stigma and suspicion about what went on behind those four walls.
Essentially, we still have the same system in the NHS, with separate organisations providing services on separate premises.
That maintains the sense of a divide between the two systems and raises a huge health inequalities issue.
On average people with severe mental health problems die 20 years earlier than those without. It is partly explained by the separateness within our system.
If someone is labelled a mental health patient, they are treated in the mental health system, and consequently their physical health needs are neglected.
We need to put both services within the same hospital as part of the culture change needed in the NHS.
The other part of that change is that doctors dealing with mental health should not just reach for medication, rather than social or psychological interventions.
In 2009 the NHS issued nearly 40 million prescriptions for anti-depressants – almost twice as many as 10 years earlier, with a noticeably sharp increase during the financial crisis.
Psychological therapies may give GPs an alternative to medication but as many as a third of doctors are unaware of services for patients beyond medication.
This tells us that we still have quite a long way to go.
Currently a person who has had a serious breakdown and has been sectioned is barred from being an MP, a juror or a company director.
It sends out a message that recovery is not possible, a message that we might have put out about cancer in the ’50s or ’60s – “Once you have had it, it is a black mark. That’s it, you’re finished.” We urgently need to change that.
On Friday Parliament must take the lead. We must change the law to reflect the potential for recovery, challenge attitudes and bring the change in services we need.
The Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill is a private member’s Bill presented by Gavin Barwell, Conservative MP for Croydon Central. The Bill has cross-party support and is also supported by Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.