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Mental Health: Children and Young People

Volume 621: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2017

4. What steps he is taking to prevent mental illness and provide mental health support for children and young people. (908624)

Last month the Prime Minister made a major speech in which she made it clear that improving the mental health of children and young people is a major priority for this Government. My Department will work with the Department for Education to publish an ambitious Green Paper outlining our plans before the end of the year.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister for their commitment to this important area of health and the parity that the Government are giving it. Does the Secretary of State agree that, as well as providing mental health support in both schools and colleges, community hospitals, due to their locality, status and scale, can often provide a useful forum for providing these vital services?

I am pleased that my hon. Friend raises that point, because when we discuss mental health we often talk about services provided by mental health trusts but do not give enough credit to the work done in primary care, both in community hospitals and by general practitioners, who have a very important role as a first point of contact. He is absolutely right to make that point.

Will the Green Paper look at the role that educational psychologists could play not only in providing support and assistance to young people with mental health problems but in preventive work? Cuts in local authority budgets have meant that the service has become quite fragmented, but there are practical ways in which it could be improved to help young people with mental health problems.

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. We have looked into this and realised that there are two issues when it comes to improving children’s and young people’s mental health. The first is improving access to specialist care for those who need it. The other is prevention: the work that can be done by teachers within schools and in training people in mental health first aid. Those kinds of things can make a huge difference and we want to make sure we do them both.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on child and adolescent mental healthcare, but what is he going to do about out-of-area transfers, which too often mean that children are found beds 200 or 300 miles away from their home? That is not in anyone’s interest, and it certainly is not in a child’s interest to be that far away from their support network.

I thank my hon. Friend for his continuing campaign on mental health issues. He is right to say that this situation is completely unacceptable, not least because if we want a child to get better quickly, the more visits from friends and family they can have, the better it is and the faster their recuperation is likely to be. We have commissioned 56 more beds, so the total number of beds commissioned for children is at a record 1,442, but we are determined to end out-of-area treatments by the end of this Parliament.

No one is going to disagree with what the Secretary of State has said, but it is not going to help people at Dove house in Dudley, which has been helping people with mental health problems since the 1970s but faces closure this year, for the want of quite a small amount of money. Will he look at this personally and do everything he can to keep this valuable facility open? It is closing because Dudley is losing 20% of its funding, which compares with the figure of just 1% in Surrey, which he represents.

Dudley CCG has seen its funding go up, and we are asking all CCGs to increase the proportion of their spend on mental health. I am happy to look into the situation the hon. Gentleman talks about, but I will be very disappointed if increasing resources are not going into mental health provision in Dudley.

Will the Secretary of State say a little more about how children’s mental health services can work more closely with schools and the education system more broadly?

I am happy to do that. Some interesting innovation is going on in many parts of the country. In Hove, a school I visited has a CAMHS––child and adolescent mental health services—worker based full-time in the school. That had a transformational effect, as it meant teachers always had someone they knew they could talk to and their understanding of mental health improved. That is the kind of innovation we want to encourage.

Further to that, what pressure and persuasiveness is the Minister bringing to bear in the education system, particularly in primary schools, where young people have, on occasion, had this kind of a diagnosis and problems have been created within the school environment?

This is a very important issue because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, half of all mental health conditions are diagnosed before or become established before people are 14, and the sooner we catch them, the better the chance of giving someone a full cure. We therefore need to find a way whereby there is some mental health expertise in every primary school, so we can head off some of these terrible problems.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) have already said, last night’s “Panorama” showed that mental health services are not funded properly. At the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust funding cuts led to community teams being disbanded, a loss of staff and the loss of in-patient psychiatry beds. Most disturbing of all is to hear parents talk of what happens to their children when they are denied support in a crisis—when they are self-harming or suicidal but there are no in-patient beds. One parent called it a “living nightmare”. We do not need any more warm words from this Secretary of State—we need action to make sure that mental health services are properly funded and properly staffed.

Let me tell the hon. Lady what action is happening this year. The proportion of CCG budgets being assigned to mental health is increasing from 12.5% to 13.1%, which is an increase of £342 million. That is action happening today because this Government are funding our NHS.