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Alcohol-related Mental Health Services

Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

6. What assessment he has made of the availability of services for patients in north Northumberland with mental health problems related to alcohol. (292233)

The North East strategic health authority has advised me that NHS North of Tyne undertook an assessment during 2007 to map the service provision against best practice guidance. Following that, the trust is now working with local partners on developing services in the local community for people with alcohol and mental health problems.

I welcome the flurry of activity since I tabled that question some time ago, but will the Minister take a personal interest in a matter that is worrying general practitioners throughout north Northumberland: the fact that there is no facility to which they can refer people with alcohol problems and alcohol-related mental health problems? Will she help and encourage all the relevant NHS trusts to fill that gap urgently?

I can indeed confirm a personal interest, as I spoke with the primary care trust this morning. It is aware of the challenge to provide better services and is in the process of completing a review of all alcohol services, including those for people who also have mental illness. I have asked the local director of public health to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss the review’s findings and he is happy to do so. I am also assured that the PCT is prioritising alcohol reduction services and, within that, has identified new investment for community-based alcohol services, which is particularly important for those with a lower-level mental health problem.

Order. I know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will stick to the subject of north Northumberland.

Can the Minister tell me whether the relaxation of product placement rules would help the people of north Northumberland in coping with alcohol problems?

I am happy to refer that question to colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Department of Health’s policy guideline on dual diagnosis talks of teams with specific expertise in dual diagnosis being developed and better co-ordinated. That was produced seven years ago, but anecdotal evidence from Northumberland and elsewhere suggests that little improvement has been made; indeed, people with schizophrenia have a 10 per cent. higher than average risk of having an alcohol problem. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that people with a dual diagnosis receive the right support?

We all know that providing the services for those who have both mental illness and an alcohol problem is an increasing challenge. There are many examples of good practice, but the truth is that, of course, we can do better. That is why we will publish, before the end of the year, good practice guidance on the development of integrated care pathways. That will give specific guidance for those who are working with people with co-existing alcohol and mental health problems. In other words, we seek to get the right people doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.