Nick Clegg: The Cinderella health service Lib Dems will champion

THE second class status given to mental health in the NHS was the subject of the first question I ever asked at Prime Ministers Questions.

I have campaigned to end the Cinderella treatment of mental health services ever since – because it threatens the opportunities available to hundreds and thousands of our fellow citizens.

Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, bi-polar disorder – these and many other mental health conditions are one of the last remaining taboos in our society, and yet they will affect one in four people.

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Much progress has been made – people now speak out in the way they never did before, we have put mental health on the same legal footing in the NHS as physical health, we’re massively expanding talking therapies and transforming the help children can get as they move into adulthood – but there’s still a long, long way to go.

I want this to be a country where a young dad chatting at the school gates will feel as comfortable discussing anxiety, stress, depression as the mum who’s explaining how she sprained her ankle.

There are many brave campaigners who have been leading the way – not least our very own Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb who deserve medals for all the tireless work they have done in Government.

Earlier this year I visited a group of young mental health service users to talk about their experiences of the care they received.

They sat round in a circle, away from the television cameras, these brave, articulate young men and women, and with astonishing honesty and candour they told me – a complete stranger – all about the things they had been through.

The despair, the shame, the bullying, the parents and siblings who didn’t know how to cope with them. And for some of them, the very darkest thoughts imaginable, including attempts to take their own lives.

And I heard about their recoveries too; their resolve; with the right treatment their determination – some of them just teenagers – to deal with their issues and live full and happy lives.

If they can speak out to me, I can speak up for them.

This morning I announced that next year, for the first time ever, we will introduce national waiting times for patients with mental health conditions.

Labour introduced waiting times in physical health – we will do the same for the many people struggling with conditions that you often can’t see, that we often don’t talk about, but which are just as serious.

So if you are waiting for talking therapies to help with your depression, you will be seen within six weeks - 18 weeks at an absolute maximum – just as if you are waiting for an operation on your hip.

If you are young person experiencing psychosis for the first, you will be seen within 2 weeks, something we are going to roll out across the country – just as if you suspect you have cancer.

If you are having a breakdown, if you are thinking of harming yourself, for any emergency which takes you to A&E, you’ll get the help you need – just as if you had gone to hospital with chest pains or following an accident.

These are big, big changes. And in Government again the Liberal Democrats will commit to completing this overhaul of our mental health services – ending the discrimination against mental health for good.

And while I know not everyone in the party is going to agree, I can tell you now: I want this smack bang on the front page of our next manifesto.

One of a small number of top priorities.

This is a great liberal cause.

Let’s be the first political party to give mental health the status it deserves.

For the countless people who are suffering alone; who are failing to get the treatment they need on time and in the right way; who are being denied the chance to get on in their lives.

For the families who are being strained to breaking point.

For a Britain that is compassionate, open and leads the way.

And to make sure this and all other care is properly funded, this week we have set out how we’ll pay for the rising costs of our treasured NHS.

Everyone now accepts it needs more money.

And it’s a good thing that all of the parties have chosen to talk about this at their Conferences.

But it’s still the case that only one party has spelt out a credible plan to pay for it.

Not only will the Liberal Democrats protect the NHS Budget in real terms, we will raise an extra £1bn for it every year, by ending three different tax breaks which benefit the highest earners, including scrapping George Osborne’s ludicrous shares for rights gimmick.

And, once we have finished the job on the deficit and public spending is rising, we are committing ourselves to ensuring NHS spending rises too.

Words in speeches are all well and good – we all love our NHS.

But what it needs is money – and that’s what the Liberal Democrats will guarantee.

• Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats. This is what he will tell delegates in his party conference speech today.