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Mental Health

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2012

Mental health is a priority for this Government. That is reflected throughout the first mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board. The quality of all services, including crisis mental health, must improve. It is for the Commissioning Board, working with local commissioners and partners, to commission services in response to need.

I welcome that answer, particularly as regards the strengthening of the NHS constitution. My hon. Friend will accept that a mental health crisis is a very frightening thing to happen to a person and can be life threatening. The charity Mind has shown that there is unacceptable variation across the country in the quality and accessibility of crisis services. Does the Minister agree that just as the Government have rightly shone a light on the variability of physical health services, we need to do the same for mental health services? We need an atlas of variation for mental health services that hon. Members and others can use to challenge local commissioners to improve.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. Atlases of variation are an important way of raising standards and we will be discussing their future use with the new commissioning organisations. He is also right to highlight the absolute importance of having parity of esteem between physical and mental health. The Government’s mandate makes it absolutely clear that there must be parity between mental and physical health services.

There are 800,000 people in this country who are living with the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. For some of those people, challenging behaviour is a serious issue. Will the Minister ensure that every clinical commissioning group has a lead for dementia in the mental health field so that that can be taken seriously in every community in the country?

That is absolutely a priority for the Government and the right hon. Lady is right to highlight its importance. The NHS Commissioning Board will work with local clinical commissioning groups to ensure that we raise the standards of health and care services, but she is absolutely right to highlight the importance of substantially improving access to dementia services.

Can the Minister clarify how often mental health centres and hospitals are inspected and how often patients are spoken to to help improve the service?

The Care Quality Commission inspects all services. Of course, there is now a registration system for such services. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of ensuring that mental health services are regarded as just as important as physical health services, which has not always been the case.

Does the Minister agree that when people are experiencing a mental health crisis, the initial response that they receive when seeking help is vital? What steps are he and his Department taking to make sure that staff in accident and emergency departments are able to respond appropriately?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that important point. A fortnight ago I visited Heartlands hospital in Birmingham, where the RAID—rapid assessment, interface and discharge—team provides brilliant access for people arriving in accident and emergency who have a mental health problem, and ensures that they get immediate access to mental health services. That sort of best practice not only improves health and well-being for those individuals, but saves the system money. We need to spread that best practice across the country. I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it.