Every ex-Health Secretary from the past 20 years has attacked the Government over failures to support patients with mental illness – with the inadequate provision branded a “stain on our country”.

In a letter to The Times. nine former holders of the role lamented the “enduring injustice” that mental and physical health were not treated with the same esteem, despite ministers' promises.

Conservatives Lord Lansley and Ken Clarke, as well as senior Labour figures Andy Burnham and Alan Johnson, are among the signatories, plus seven former junior ministers and the last two NHS chief executives.

They urge Chancellor Philip Hammond to “make good the promise to achieve genuine equality” in next week’s Autumn Statement.

When Theresa May took over as Prime Minister she promised to end the “burning injustice” of the lack of help for people with mental illness, after David Cameron promised parity of esteem last year.

But the letter argues that “warm words” were yet to be backed by action, and highlighted patients being “shunted across the country” due to a lack of beds. They also noted the rising suicide rate among young men and a “growing mental health crisis among young women”, as well as late intervention for children with eating disorders.

The letter adds: “Despite promised increases in funding, mental health trusts are still suffering cuts.” Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb, who organised the letter, said: “It is a stain on our country that people with mental ill health are so often treated as second-class citizens.”

But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We are making progress against our goal to address the difficulties faced by those with mental health problems. “Spending by clinical commissioning groups has increased by £693m, every area in the country has put together plans to transform children’s mental health services, and our suicide prevention strategy is to be refreshed, all backed by added investment.”

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