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NHS Mental Health Services (University/College Students)

Volume 659: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on the provision of NHS mental health services for university and college students. (910716)

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care met the Secretary of State for Education in February to discuss concerns about mental health and the prevalence of self-harm among young people. “The NHS Long Term Plan” states that we will

“extend current service models to create a comprehensive offer for 0-25 year olds”,

and I expect to have regular dialogue with our counterparts in the Department for Education to make that a reality.

The all-party parliamentary university group has heard consistent evidence about the rising number of students presenting with mental health problems. We have been told that it has increased sixfold in the last 10 years, from 9,675 to 57,000. That poses huge challenges to what used to be counselling services but are now becoming a mainstream part of health provision, funded by universities. What are the Government going to do about it?

Young people often fall out of care when they leave their home addresses to go to university. To deal with that transition, we extended the service to nought to 25-year-olds through the forward plan rather than cutting it off at adulthood. That will ensure that we can do more to achieve continuity of care.

I pay tribute to the efforts that universities have made. They have seized on the challenge posed by the increasing prevalence of mental health problems, and I will continue my dialogue with them.

The students union at Anglia Ruskin University—which is based in Chelmsford as well as in that other “C” place, Cambridge—carried out a big study on student mental health. One of its requests was for students to be able to register with two GPs, one at home and one at university, so that they would not be stuck without a GP in the holidays or in term time. Can we look at that again?

I will definitely look at it. As I have said, the transition poses real challenges, because of a process failure rather than any lack of willingness or commitment on anyone’s part. We must ensure that people retain access to services as they move around.

The all-party parliamentary group on psychology, which I chair, heard just last week that young people who have done extremely well with child and adolescent mental health services are being put on waiting lists when they move away from home to colleges and universities, and are having to start again from the beginning. They are falling through the gaps. Will the Minister ensure that that does not happen any more, that there is no longer a postcode lottery, and that people who have done extremely well in getting into university receive all the support they need?

I see that there is a meeting of minds. Not only do I agree with what the hon. Lady has said, but I have met the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) to discuss exactly that issue. There is clearly a systemic weakness in respect of those who move between home and university, and we will continue our dialogue to ensure that it is fixed.

The Minister will be aware of the close and often tragic link between mental illness and suicide, which is now the biggest killer of young people and is at record levels. What specific measures do the Government have to address that issue?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we expect all local communities to have suicide prevention plans, part of which will be that they engage in areas of greatest risk, whether it be regarding place or their populations. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people and I expect local authorities to engage with education providers to make sure that sufficient measures are in place. We are in the process of challenging the plans to make sure they are fit for purpose.

Universities UK has warned that it simply cannot keep expanding to fill the gaps left by inadequate funding for NHS services, after university spending on mental health services rose by almost half in five years. Too often other sectors such as education are left to fill the funding gap this Government have left in mental health, so can the Minister tell me today when her Government will match our pledge to ring-fence funding for mental health?

I have always viewed the ring fence as a ceiling rather than a protection. We have the mental health investment standard and NHS England is challenging clinical commissioning groups that are not spending what we would expect.

This is a systemic weakness. We have treated children up to 18 and then considered them as adults, but the reality is that people do not suddenly achieve majority overnight. We intend through the forward plan to have the children and young people service from nought to 25. That should enable transition and stop people falling off the cliff edge at 18.