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Mental Health Services

Volume 576: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2014

Our mandate to NHS England makes it clear that everyone who needs it should have timely access to the best available treatment. NHS England is currently gathering information about access to and waiting times for mental health services. We will use this information to set new national access standards for the first time, to be introduced from 2015.

The Safe Haven in Corby provided crisis out-of-hours support to 1,300 people with mental health problems last year. For the first time ever, it has been asked to tender for its future funding. It was eight minutes late with its tender, and the service is going to be cut. What will happen to the people who need that service in the future? Will the Minister meet me to discuss it?

I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about that. My understanding is that the local CCG undertook a retendering exercise with a view to maintaining and, indeed, improving mental health services locally. As he says, Safe Haven did not submit its tender in time. It had a right to appeal, and it chose not to appeal. The CCG is absolutely committed to ensuring that it improves mental health services locally.

Not only do mental health services not get the attention that they sometimes deserve, but the condition of individuals is often exacerbated by the inability of the benefits system to recognise episodic illness and by the insensitivity and incompetence of Atos in work capability assessments. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions so that we can have a system that is suitable and fit for people with mental illness?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Indeed, I share the concerns that he raises, and I have recently met my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for benefits specifically because I have those concerns. There needs to be much closer working between mental health services and the benefits system locally.

The Minister knows that early intervention therapy or talking therapies can relieve pressure not only in access to beds, but in helping individuals. He has just told the House that he will look at assessments of waiting times. Will he tell the House exactly what force or lever he will have to ensure that local trusts implement such targets?

I think it was a big mistake to leave out mental health when the 18-week maximum waiting time limit was introduced for physical health services. To me, that is inexplicable, so I am determined to correct it: from next year, there will be waiting times standards for mental health. Indeed, when the Care Quality Commission inspects and regulates providers, it will ensure that those access standards are met, in the same way as applies for physical health.