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Children’s Mental Health Services

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2014

13. What steps he is taking to improve access to and reduce waiting times for children’s mental health services. (905551)

The taskforce on child and adolescent mental health is considering ways to improve access to children’s mental health services. The plan that we published earlier this month, “Achieving Better Access to Mental Health Services by 2020” sets out the ambition to extend waiting time standards across all mental health services by 2020. We are investing £7 million this year in providing an additional 50 beds.

More and more children are being treated on adult psychiatric wards, with many having to travel hundreds of miles across the country for treatment, as has been said today. The chief executive of YoungMinds has said that the increase in the number of children being placed in adult wards was predictable, following the cuts to mental health services. Why did the Minister not see it coming and do something sooner?

We did see a problem emerging. That is why NHS England set up a taskforce to look at that precise problem. Its recommendation earlier this year was to add 50 beds, and that is what we are doing. The indication from October is that there is a significant increase in spare bed capacity within the system, so the problem is being addressed.

I welcome the additional £7 million of investment. Given that 65% of children in Fenland wait more than 18 weeks for access to mental health services, will the Minister write to me to set out how the additional investment will help rural communities in particular?

I would be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he welcomes the fact that, for the first time, we are introducing access and waiting time standards in mental health, including in children’s mental health. Until now, there has been discrimination at the heart of the NHS. Labour introduced waiting time and access standards, but it left out mental health. That was completely unjustifiable and I am proud that the coalition is correcting it.

The cost of living crisis has had a huge impact on children’s well-being across Britain as families struggle. That issue has been raised with me by support workers in my constituency who have seen young people come forward with depression. That is compounded by the lack of mental health support services. Does the Minister recognise those issues? Is he happy with the data that he has available on the prevalence of young people’s mental health problems?

I absolutely recognise the problem. I have commissioned an up-to-date prevalence survey so that we have evidence that can help services around the country. If the hon. Lady wants to talk with me further about the problems in her area, I would be happy to do so.

A local report on mental health and emotional resilience among young people in South Lakeland found that the stigma surrounding mental health and the lack of sufficient resources over time mean that distressed and panic-stricken families often do not know how to begin to access the support that their children desperately need. How can my right hon. Friend help us get swift, clear and obvious access to mental health care for young people?

I welcome the study that has been undertaken in my hon. Friend’s area. The brilliant “time to change” campaign has done an awful lot to tackle stigma in mental health. We confirmed recently that the funding for that will continue in 2015-16. I accept that we need to do much more to improve access to children’s mental health services.