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Mental Health

Volume 605: debated on Monday 25 January 2016

1. What estimate she has made of the number of children in schools with mental health problems; and what assessment she has made of the capacity of schools and sixth-form colleges to appropriately support those children. (903199)

8. What steps the Government are taking in schools to support young people with their mental health. (903207)

First, may I take this opportunity to welcome the new shadow Ministers for childcare, the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), and for mental health, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), to their places on the Opposition Front Bench?

This Government are committed to helping all young people fulfil their potential. Mental health is a personal priority for me as Secretary of State and we are committed to helping schools provide the necessary support. This includes a pilot to improve access to specialist services where needed, and guidance on counselling, behaviour and teaching about mental health. The Government are also investing an additional £1.4 billion in children and young people’s mental health services, which will deliver a step-change in the way these services are commissioned and delivered.

The number of children going to A&E with mental health issues has more than doubled since 2010, and schools are having to manage a growing crisis. Decreased access to support from child and adolescent mental health services is making this much harder. I appreciate the Secretary of State’s warm words, but what guarantee can she give pupils, parents and teachers that this Government are serious about acting on these issues?

Importantly, there is interest in this matter in all parts of the House, and I recognise and welcome that. That is the first step to tackling the stigma associated with mental health and getting people to talk about it, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right that we have to go further. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced £1.4 billion for young people’s mental health services, and a portion of the funding for that was announced recently. Also, the Department is contributing £1.5 million to joint training pilots to look at having single points of contact in schools and CAMHS. Teachers are not mental health workers, but they do have the opportunity to spot problems. They must know, and be able to work with, those in their local health services.

It is clear that this Government are committed to ensuring that young people have good access to mental health support. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Department for Education’s mental health service and “schools link” pilot, bringing in a single point of contact in 255 schools, will mean there is a more joined-up approach between schools and health services, which will positively impact on the mental health of our young people across the UK, and the south-west in particular?

I am pleased to be able to say that the first round of training workshops has been successfully delivered to 255 schools and the second round is now under way. Schools and clinical commissioning groups are taking part in an evaluation of the programme to help us understand whether, and how, having the named lead roles has improved the working between schools and CAMHS and to look at any wider changes across participating schools.

Access to these services for all children and young people is absolutely crucial. With pressures increasing on school budgets, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give that all children and young people who need access to good quality mental health and counselling services are able to get them?

I have already mentioned the joint training pilots. As a Department we have also provided £4.9 million this year to support 17 voluntary sector projects, and this is the first time that mental health services have been a part of that. The teacher voice omnibus survey carried out last summer found that 54% of teachers reported feeling that they knew how to help pupils with mental health issues access appropriate support and 62% reported that their school provided counselling services for pupils needing extra support, but I would be the first to admit we have further to go on this.

In the last Parliament, the Health Committee heard compelling evidence of the need to focus on prevention and early intervention. Much of that, as the Secretary of State will know, is being funded from public health budgets. Will the Secretary of State set out what discussions she will have, and reassure the House that as those budgets come under pressure the very valuable services being put in place will not be affected?

I read with interest the Health Committee report in the last Parliament, and I and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), have regular conversations with our colleagues in the Department of Health and across Government on this issue. Early insights from the local transformation plans, which my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) will know about, indicate that some areas are already running their own activities to decrease stigma and discrimination, or are planning to do so. Sadly, there remains discrimination against the prioritisation of mental health services even within some parts of the NHS. We have to change that.

I am feeling rather abandoned on the Scottish National party Benches today, and I am wondering whether my colleagues are off celebrating an early Burns Night. I wish any Members who will be taking part in such events a very enjoyable time.

The link between mental health problems and poverty is well documented, with young people from the poorest 20% of households three times more likely to suffer from poor mental health than those from the most affluent 20%. What plans does the Secretary of State have to study the impact of removing the education maintenance allowance on the mental health of the most disadvantaged young people in society?

I agree with the first part of the hon. Lady’s question, although I am afraid that I could not agree with the second part because I could not quite see where she was heading with it. The overall issue is that the mental health of young people from all backgrounds needs to be addressed, in the sense of tackling early intervention and prevention and of ensuring that we produce strong, resilient young people. That is why I have been talking a lot about character education, which is something that I want to prioritise in the schools system in England.

I am delighted by the announcements that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made on this issue, not least because many families in my constituency and in other parts of east Kent have great difficulty in accessing mental health services, particularly for adolescents. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that her Department’s involvement in these matters will mean that people throughout the education system will be much more alert to the early signs of mental health problems and have quicker access to the medical mental health services?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. That is precisely why the Department has made this a priority. We understand that, although teachers are not mental health workers, they work with young people day in and day out, week in and week out, and they will be able to spot the issues. However, they need to know that when the cases get referred, they will be dealt with speedily by the medical service, which is why we are working closely with the NHS as well. I also want to ensure that teachers are fully equipped to tackle mental health problems and mental health stigma in classrooms, and that is why we have funded the Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education Association to produce guidance and lesson plans to support age-appropriate teaching on mental health issues which can be used in this academic year.

I should like to thank the Speaker for kindly giving me permission to join this departmental question session and others in order to raise these important issues on mental health. At least half the adults who have mental health problems are diagnosed in childhood, so it is vital that we intervene early to promote good mental health in children. I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said, but it is on her Government’s watch that they will underspend by £77 million on the child and adolescent mental health budget. Concerns have been raised by no fewer than four Select Committee Chairs about this Government’s dire record on PSHE, and we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children turning up at A&E with mental health problems because the thresholds to access services are increasing. When will the Secretary of State stop the warm words and give us proper action to support the child and adolescent mental health services that this country desperately needs?

I welcome the hon. Lady’s appointment. She will know of my personal interest in this matter, and that I am the first Secretary of State to task one of the Ministers in my Department with specific responsibility for mental health education. It is a shame that she did not have a chance to amend her question—or perhaps her statement—before she stood up. If she had done so, she could have reflected the fact that I have already talked about the joint training pilots, about the £1.25 billion my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already announced, about the PSHE Association, about training for schools and about the provision of counselling. I look forward to working with her on this very important issue.