Diplomats from 15 countries attended a breakfast in partnership with International Hospitals Group (IHG), organised by Diplomat magazine. The event took place at The Royal Society of Medicine on 5 July 2023.
Having completed over 480 healthcare projects in 55 different countries, IHG has worldwide experience making a positive global impact on healthcare. Customers have included governments, the United Nations and the World Bank. IHG CEO Chester King Chester offered some background on IHG’s specialist expertise on physical health services. From project finance to functional planning and design, project management, construction and construction management, to operational management, recruitment and training, IHG has huge experience. Since Brexit, IHG are feeling pressure from the UK government to do more and promote British healthcare globally.
He also highlighted that IHG can facilitate the provision to private companies and national governments of 100 per cent project finance supported by the UK government’s Export Finance Department (UKEF) and international banks. Typically, project finance is provided at the lowest rate possible, which is fixed for the duration of the financing. Repayments commence six months after project completion and are made over the following 10 to 14 years at six monthly intervals.
With 970 million people living with mental disorders in the world, Chester spoke of the importance of governments and companies investing in mental health. The cost of these mental health issues has caused governments to experience lower productivity with their populations missing work.
Mental health is a critically important issue for everyone everywhere. Mental health needs are high, but in general responses are insufficient and inadequate. Governments need to commit to tackling mental health as an investment towards a better life and future for all, and can greatly reduce suffering and improve the quality of health and life expectancy of people with mental health conditions, and those around them. Enhanced coverage and increased financial protection are fundamental steps towards closing the vast care gap, and reducing the inequalities in mental health.
The WHO ‘World Mental Health Report’ (published in June 2022) also highlighted that mental health conditions are widespread, under-treated and under-resourced. It reported that 970 million people are living with mental health disorders. Produced by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, a report produced in November 2021 on ‘Children and Young People’s Mental Health’ highlighted that the mental health of children and young people has worsened during the pandemic. And 50 per cent of mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75 by the age of 24.
This has had great costs for the UK government. In the UK, 35 per cent of A&E patients are mental health related, creating fuller hospitals and increased wait times. Mental health problems cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion per year. There is a five to one benefit to cost ratio for scaling up the treatment of anxiety and depression, and there is a need for UK hospitals to build mental health urgent assessment centres. New hospitals need to have mental health facilities to cope with demand and also reduce the stigma. Fifteen per cent of UK healthcare budget is spent on mental health, but in 70 per cent of countries that figure is less than 1 per cent.
IHG have projects in motion in both Saudi Arabia and India to build mental health facilities that are separate to physical health hospitals. The facilities need to be different as the needs are completely different. However, unlike regular hospitals, Chester noted it was quicker and cheaper to set up mental health facilities, than physical health hospitals.
Chester emphasised to the diplomats in the room how important it is that they question their governments about their approaches to mental health. The floor was then opened to questions.
One Ambassador of an African nation, (who has master’s in social work), spoke of how her country has been on the frontline for its whole existence, so mental health has always been a grave issue for its population. She offered a couple of recent examples of suicide close to her. “As a government, this subject is really something we are looking into. Our Health Minister is also a mental health professional, which means she really understands its importance.”
Attendees also discussed what happens after a conflict or natural disaster. Physical health is always considered first, but often mental health recovery is forgotten. Chester discussed how IHG had considered setting up mobile mental health units that could be moved onsite following natural disasters like earthquakes.
The group also highlighted that mental health is a subject that is still often so stigmatised – in some countries more than others – meaning that that people aren’t keen to discuss these issues openly or in some cases address them at all. Chester gave an example of speaking to a Middle Eastern woman at Arab Health, who admitted that her uncle was schizophrenic. She noted that she had never told anyone before, as if people found out, no one would want to marry her daughter.
Chester emphasised the importance of countries having well-known mental health advocates. For example, famous footballers have become mental health advocates in the Middle East, as have cricketers in India, and even the Prince and Princess of Wales, who today are part of the ‘Heads Together’ campaign that encourages people to have important conversations about mental health.
The group also discussed the potential pitfalls with the term ‘Mental Health.’ Chester highlighted how IBM have created a different term: Human Functioning, with the focus on being the best version of yourself (physically and mentally). There are hopes that this terminology may be less divisive.
Chester noted that the most important thing is that governments encourage people to talk about mental health issues. Is this a subject that is discussed at all? He emphasised how IHG have worked all over the globe and are known for being culturally sensitive on the subject. The most important thing is to encourage people to talk about mental health issues.
His key message from the event was: “If governments invest in mental health from a young age, it will save them money and result in happier, healthier and more productive populations in the long run.”
Attendees also highlighted the long-term effects of stress and burnout experienced by diplomats due to the long hours working in London’s diplomatic missions. Attendees expressed an interest in how this could be a subject for future events with the group.