Against the backdrop of other pressing issues such as tackling operation waiting lists, Lord Stevens of Birmingham stressed the need for the sector to remain a priority.
The independent crossbencher, who stepped down as NHS England chief executive last year, told Parliament that the Covid-19 pandemic had “exacerbated and intensified” mental health needs.
He pointed to figures that showed a 69% increase in the number of young people being referred for specialist support, including eating disorders.
Lord Stevens made his comments as peers started their detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the Health and Care Bill.
Highlighting the importance of mental health, Lord Stevens said: “Over the past decade there’s been a sea change in our public awareness and attitudes. And at the same time, the NHS has begun to expand the services to make good historic deficits.
“But I’m afraid it’s not ‘Mission Accomplished’ far from it. And the mission has just got a lot tougher. The pandemic has exacerbated and intensified mental health needs, not just in this country, but across the industrialised world.”
He added: “So at a time when entirely appropriately, the focus is on cutting waits for surgical operations we must make sure that mental health continues to get the focus the priority, the constancy of commitment that it requires.”
Lord Stevens has proposed a legislative change aimed at ensuring transparency on mental health investment, which has been growing as a share of NHS funding.
Assuring the minister it should not be taken as a criticism, he said: “It’s an encouragement to stay the course, putting our money where our mouth is, towards parity of esteem. Or if he prefers levelling up between physical and mental health.
“So it does not tie ministers hands. It just requires them to reveal their hand.”
Responding, health minister Lord Kamall said the Government took mental health seriously.
He said: “I understand the concern that there should be appropriate clarity and transparency on expectations in respect to mental health funding. However, I believe that this already exists.”
Lord Kamall added: “We fully support the sentiment putting increased focus on mental health spending.
But he told peers: “The reporting and accountability arrangements we have in place already ensure that mental health is a priority for this government.”