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Mental Health/Learning Disabilities

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps she (a) has taken and (b) plans to take to promote the protection of people with (i) mental health problems and (ii) learning disabilities (A) at work and (B) in residential care settings. (74986)

Less than one in four people experiencing long-term mental health problems is in employment, and one third of those in employment report having been dismissed or forced to resign. There is evidence that better access to psychological treatment can help people to return to or maintain employment.

The Government are committed to improving access to evidence-based psychological therapies, and this policy was set out in the Labour manifesto 2005 and the “Our Health, our care, our say White Paper. Our Improving Access to Psychological Therapies” programme forms a key part of the Government’s “Health, Work and Well-Being—Caring for Our Future” (HWWB) strategy, which the Department launched last October with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Health and Safety Commission.

The Department is not responsible for the protection of people with learning disabilities at work. However, people with mental health problems and learning disabilities are protected by all employment legislation, for example that governing freedom from discrimination and equal opportunities. In addition, “The Duty to Promote Disability Equality statutory code of practice in England and Wales”, published by the Disability Rights Commission in December 2005, includes mental illness and learning disabilities.

There are a wide range of measures to protect vulnerable people in regulated social care, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. We have set out standards for care and treatment for the national health service and social care services in the national service framework for mental health and the White Paper, “Valuing People: a new strategy for learning disability”.

We have introduced national minimum standards for care homes, domiciliary care and adult placements to ensure that vulnerable people can live in a safe environment, where their rights and dignity are respected and staff are properly trained. The regulator, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, has powers to take swift and decisive action where abuse occurs, by serving enforcement notices on care homes and domiciliary care providers and, ultimately, it can close services down.

“No Secrets”, statutory guidance issued under section 7 of the 1970 Local Authorities Social Services Act by the Department in 2000, provides a complete definition of abuse and a framework for councils to work with the police, the NHS and regulators to tackle abuse and prevent it from occurring.

We introduced the protection of vulnerable adults (PoVA) scheme in July 2004. PoVA prevents dangerous or unscrupulous people from gaining access to vulnerable people in care homes or being cared for in their own homes. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill was introduced in Parliament on 28 February 2006. The new scheme will build on the existing PoVA scheme and will make it far more difficult for abusers to gain access to some of the most vulnerable groups in society. Subject to the necessary legislation being passed by Parliament, it will begin staged implementation in 2007.