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Physical and Mental Health (Parity of Esteem)

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

The mandate to NHS England requires measurable progress in achieving parity of esteem by March 2015. “Closing the Gap”, which was published in January 2014, contains a reinvigorated system-wide drive to deliver parity of esteem and to hold services to account. That includes programmes in NHS England, Public Health England and Health Education England.

If the Minister really believes in parity of esteem, how can he possibly justify cutting the funding for mental health trusts by 20% more than has been the case for other hospitals? Six leading mental health organisations warned that that decision will put lives at risk. Will the Minister now rethink the matter?

It is because I really care about parity of esteem that I described the decision by NHS England as flawed. It cannot be justified. It is not based on evidence. I am pleased to say that since then the former chief executive, David Nicholson, has written to all his area teams to make it very clear that in their commissioning plans and clinical commissioning groups, and in determining contracts with mental health providers, they must apply the principle of parity of esteem. Let us wait to see what emerges from that, but any reduction in funding for mental health this year would be unacceptable.

We know that spending on mental health fell for the first time in a decade in the first year in which this Government were in power. Unfortunately, the Department no longer collects or publishes that data, but Sheffield Mind has expressed its concerns about cuts in the two subsequent years despite referrals rising dramatically. Will the Minister assure the House that he will in future publish figures on spending levels and that mental health services will not be subject to a fourth year of cuts?

We want to make sure that there is complete transparency in the availability of data and to ensure that in future it will be possible to draw those comparisons. I suspect that there is agreement across the House that mental health must not lose out. In the last decade, when the NHS was financially squeezed mental health lost out, as the Health Committee confirmed. It has happened again this time, but I am absolutely determined that we will change the levers to ensure that mental health gets its fair deal. I am delighted to confirm today that we are ending the exclusion of mental health patients from the legal right of choice. It is extraordinary to me that when the Labour Government introduced a legal right of choice in the NHS, they inexplicably left out mental health patients. We are ending that today.

Last week, I hosted a reception in Parliament to celebrate the outstanding work of the West London Centre for Counselling and its tireless support for my constituents with mental health issues, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Copeland (Mr Reed) for attending. Organisations such as the centre are, in the words of Mind, “straining at the seams” because demand so far outstrips resources. Why does not this Minister take responsibility for being in government and do something about mental health being a Cinderella service?

That is precisely what I am seeking to do, but we have to address what I have often described as an institutional bias against mental health in the NHS. For example, when the previous Labour Government introduced a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks, inexplicably, they left out mental health again. What possible justification can there be for that? We are ending that and ensuring that when commissioners determine where funding goes they will have to take into account waiting time standards in mental health for the first time.

I am proud to be a patron of Cool Recovery, a mental health charity in my constituency that provides vital support and information for sufferers and their families. Will the Minister confirm that as we welcome Simon Stevens to his new role, he will not only discuss how parity of esteem is reflected in the overall funding share but make sure that some of that funding can go to the charities that provide that parity?

I will absolutely discuss parity of esteem with Simon Stevens when I meet him very soon and I will ensure that the case for third sector organisations is taken into account, as they play an incredibly important role. I was delighted, incidentally, to be down in the south-west at the signing of the crisis care concordat to ensure that people who are suffering a mental health crisis are treated in the same way as people who are suffering a physical health crisis.

The Minister is absolutely right to talk about the institutional bias and that is why it is absolutely right to introduce choice today and to set access standards for mental health for the first time. Will he go one step further and do something else that the previous Labour Government did not do by introducing the standards that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence sets for mental health and ensuring that they are must-dos as well?

I very much share my right hon. Friend’s frustration that when a medicine is determined by the National Institute for Care Excellence as an evidence-based intervention, the system has to allow it, but when NICE determines that a procedure should be followed, it is discretionary. We must address that to ensure that we use the money in the most effective, evidence-based way.

Will the Minister have a discussion with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to see what more can be done to help patients with mental health issues to get into the workplace and find employment?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. One thing that I am very proud of is that under this Government 80,000 more people a year are getting access to psychological therapies through the improving access to psychological therapies programme—something we that should be very proud of. We have also done some joint work with the Department for Work and Pensions on how we can link up IAPT much more effectively with Jobcentre Plus to get people back to work, rather than paying them benefits.

The Minister was right to point out that from today people who use mental health services are supposed to be able to choose where they get their treatment. However, the payment mechanisms still are not in place and the guidance has not been issued. Is it not the case that the only choice for many teenagers is whether to be treated on an adult ward or travel hours to the nearest bed? The Health and Social Care Act 2012 was meant to deliver parity of esteem. The Minister is not a commentator or a bystander. I listened to his answers a moment ago. Can he explain what has gone so wrong and how he intends to fix it?

I agree that I am not a bystander. That is why I have acted to introduce choice for mental health patients for the first time—something that the Labour Government completely failed to do. Perhaps the hon. Lady could explain to the House why on earth they would leave out mental health patients from the legal right of choice. It is extraordinary. This Government are taking decisive action to ensure that there is real parity—real equality—in the way that mental health patients are treated.