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Mental Health Services

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2019

Under the NHS long-term plan, there will be a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, with additional funding of £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24. That will give greater mental health support to an extra 345,000 children, at least 380,000 more adults, and 24,000 more new and expectant mothers.

Across the country there is a real challenge in recruiting qualified mental health nurses. Will the Minister work with me and the Devon Partnership NHS Trust to encourage as many qualified professionals as we can to come to work at the excellent in-patient wards at North Devon District Hospital?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend; it is important that we have the right workforce in place. That is a considerable challenge, but it is essential if we are to achieve the best outcomes. I am pleased that the Devon Partnership NHS Trust has seen an increase of 47 mental health nurses between February 2010 and February 2019, which shows that it is doing exactly as he says and going out of its way to recruit the best possible people. That work must continue, as is recognised in our “Interim NHS People Plan”

I recently met representatives from Somerset’s NHS trust and its child and adolescent mental health services to look at young people’s mental health services and I heard some worrying stories of bed allocation. This has led to teenagers with mental health problems being moved out of the county, sometimes a huge distance from home, or sharing wards with very young children. So what is the Department doing to ensure that young people are not held in care for extended periods, which can exacerbate their difficulties, and that provision is sufficient for them to remain close to family and friends in an appropriate environment?

It is essential that we end the practice of out-of-area placements because, as my hon. Friend rightly says, being in close proximity to family and friends is clearly going to aid the recovery of anyone suffering from mental ill health. This has been a particular problem for children and young people, and a particular problem in the south-west, but I can report to him that NHS England is making sure that we have more adequate bed provision across the country, and we will continue to drive down these out-of-area placements.

Somebody is much more likely to need mental health services if they have experienced childhood adversity. The all-party group on the prevention of adverse childhood experiences has looked in detail at the evidence base on policies to prevent this adversity. What is the best thing the group can do to influence the Government’s prevention strategy?

I have to say, the hon. Gentleman does it very well: he continually makes noise about this important issue. He is absolutely right that adverse childhood experiences inform people’s future mental health, or mental ill health. We are currently looking at our provision for early years intervention and the first 1,001 days—the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the importance of that—but we need to make sure that state organisations take advantage of every contact they have with children, to ensure that we pick people up when they are vulnerable.

My learning disabled constituent, who also has mental health and substance abuse issues, was placed in poor-quality housing and left without food and heating by a local care provider called Focus. What is the Department doing to ensure that subcontracted social care providers are fit for purpose?

The case that the hon. Lady mentions is clearly very concerning. It is for local authorities to make sure, when they commission care providers, that they are fit for purpose and discharge their responsibilities in the local care plan, but we also need to recognise that people with learning disabilities as well as mental health issues are particularly vulnerable. We need to make sure that local authorities and local NHS services work together more effectively to ensure that care needs are not neglected.

I was interested to see recent comments by the Secretary of State regarding the use of music to combat over-medicalisation—I should declare that I am married to a music therapist—so does that mean he shares my interest in the use of music therapy to combat mental health issues, as well as dementia and other conditions?

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has declared his interest in this matter. He is right that mental wellbeing is about not only clinical interventions but very much the kind of things that he describes—wider social prescribing. We cannot overstate the role of the third sector in giving wraparound support to people going through periods of mental ill health. I am giving clinical commissioning groups the clear message that they need to look at what else they commission in this space, alongside clinical interventions.

In Manchester on Saturday, people were giving away free “Unknown Pleasures” t-shirts, partly to mark the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest albums ever made. But, as anyone who knows the history of Joy Division will know, there is also the important related issue of male suicide and people were being encouraged to donate to charities, particularly those that work with young men at risk of suicide. I was sent one of the t-shirts, Mr Speaker, but I thought you might rule it out of order if I wore it. These charities obviously do great work, but they are trying to fill real gaps in the system. How can we ensure, when we consider long-term health plans and long-term mental health services, that there are not gaps that people fall between?

The hon. Lady articulates the issue extremely well. The purpose of local suicide prevention plans is very much to make sure that we have a joined-up approach to combating male suicide and to identify exactly where the gaps in the services are. The £600,000 that we announced yesterday for the sector-led improvement package is to enable local authorities to share expertise and to make sure that, holistically, they provide the leadership to make sure that the gaps are plugged. I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s interest in this matter.

This week, the Children’s Society published research to show that more than 110,000 children and young people were turned away from mental health services because their problems were not deemed serious enough—that is despite suicide rates for teenagers almost doubling in eight years and research from YoungMinds that shows that three quarters of parents feel their child’s mental health has deteriorated while they wait for treatment. Why are so few children able to get the support from mental health services that they so desperately need?

As the hon. Lady and I have discussed previously, I would be the first person to recognise that we are not where we would like to be in respect of the provision of mental health services, but that is why we are investing an additional £2.3 billion to expand access for children by 345,000. In addition to that, we are investing in a brand new workforce in all our schools so that we can have exactly the kind of early intervention that will not require more lengthy periods of care and treatment. It is essential that we equip all schools and young people with tools to manage their wellbeing.