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Mental Health Services

Volume 667: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2019

By 2023, an additional £2.3 billion a year will flow into mental health services across England. Our long-term plan for that increased investment will ensure that more adults, children and young people than ever before are able to get mental health support when they need it. Increased funding will also support further improvements in quality of care and patient experience.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her position. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be more than familiar with the long-running problems at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which is our county’s main mental health trust. There is a huge effort to try to improve it, but I know from constituency cases that significant problems still exist. Will Ministers update us on what progress they think has been made at NSFT?

My hon. Friend works tirelessly on his constituents’ behalf. In fact, I think I am meeting some of his constituents tomorrow. I will look into the issues he raises, but the trust has been working since May 2018 on delivering the immediate improvements suggested by the Care Quality Commission, and leadership support has been provided by East London NHS Foundation Trust. I promise to look into the situation to see where the trust is at this point and what improvements have been made, and I may have that information to feed back to him tomorrow.

I welcome the Minister’s recent announcement of greater support for people affected by the suicide of a loved one, but what form will that additional support actually take?

It goes without saying that anyone affected by a friend or family member taking their own life will be absolutely devastated. We made an announcement at the weekend of nearly £1 million of funding to target 10 areas to help to provide assistance and support to the bereaved. We will assess those 10 sites to see what is delivered and how it works, and we will hopefully be able to roll the scheme out across the UK in the future.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The time in a woman’s life when she is most likely to struggle with her mental health is when she is pregnant or shortly after delivery, but half of all women with depression during that period say that their problem remains unidentified by the NHS. Does the Minister think that it is time for all women to get a postnatal check from their GP as part of the GP contract?

We are looking into that. Perinatal support is provided to women across the UK. We have been pushing this from the Department. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this is a time in a woman’s life when she may suffer from poor mental health or a mental health condition that is directly related to her pregnancy, and that is when women need support most. We are looking into this, we are pushing this and we are looking into providing that, hopefully as part of the GP contract.

People outside the House will have listened to the Minister’s warm words, yet we know that still far too many people right across our country are having to travel hundreds of miles to access services. Young people having to travel 300 miles to get a bed is unacceptable. Will the Minister tell us whether the investment she outlined will be ring fenced, because it has not been thus far? Will she also be investing specifically in young people’s mental health services?

That is a big question because it covers two areas. This Government have invested £2.3 billion in mental health services, a huge amount of which is to go into salaries, to deliver community health services where they are needed: close to patients and to their relatives and families. It is also to provide community health teams and support teams in schools for young people. Clinical commissioning groups are under an obligation to provide those mental health services with the set funding. If the hon. Lady would like to meet to hear more about that, I will be happy to discuss it with her.

As this is your last Health questions, Mr Speaker, may I thank you for your many years of campaigning for speech and language therapy for children? It has given great hope to many families in a situation similar to your own.

On the issue of early intervention, given that half of all mental health conditions are established before the age of 14, does the Minister, who is passionate about this, agree that mental health provision in schools is essential? Will she update the House on progress towards the 2023 objective of a quarter of schools having a mental health lead?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and for his work as Secretary of State. He was the longest-serving Secretary of State for Health ever, and he is passionately interested in this subject, too. Yes, we are on track—in fact, we are more than on track—to meet our objective of 25% of schools being covered by a school mental health support team by 2023-24.

The school mental health support teams have been launched in trailblazer areas, and I visited one a few weeks ago at Springwest Academy in Hounslow to see the amazing work the teams are doing with young children. The teams are teaching coping strategies and identifying mental health problems as they arise very early in life, which helps children to deal with those mental health problems now and into adulthood. We are on track and we hope to meet that objective.

Last week it was reported that a 16-year-old boy in Milton Keynes tragically died by suicide. His referral to mental health services was rejected because he did not meet the threshold as his mental health problems were not deemed severe enough. This is deeply shocking, and it is clear that too many children are going without the support they need. Will the Minister now match Labour’s commitment to invest in children’s mental health services and to ensure that every secondary school has access to a trained mental health professional?

Obviously I cannot comment on an individual case, but what I can say is that the NICE guidelines on assessment for suicide were recently sent out to A&E departments to ensure that people who present with mental health problems are treated holistically and looked at in the round to assess whether they are a suicide risk.

We are investing £2.3 billion in mental health services—more than invested by any previous Government—and a huge amount of that is going towards children and young people. I hope cases such as the one highlighted by the hon. Lady will be a thing of the past. We have turned a corner. We are rolling out these mental health teams and, in the last year alone, 3,000 more people are working with young people and young adults. We have the new training scheme and the school mental health support teams. There is more to be done, but I hope such stories will become a thing of the past.[Official Report, 5 November 2019, Vol. 667, c. 8MC.]