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Mental Health Treatment Reform

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2021

We are transforming mental health services through the NHS long-term plan, investing an additional £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24. Where national waiting time targets exits, the majority are being met. Targets for eating disorder services are sadly not being met, but additional resources have been allocated to increase capacity and address waiting times. We are working on the consultation responses for the Mental Health Act White Paper, and we will bring legislation forward when parliamentary time allows.

After a career working in mental health for almost 30 years, prior to entering this House, I was delighted to be asked to become a board member for a local charity, Anxious Minds, which is based in Blyth town centre. Its aim is to improve mental health and wellbeing for local people. Will my hon. Friend assure me and those who worry about the toll that this pandemic has taken on the vulnerable that she will do everything she can to ensure that mental health is given the highest possible propriety as restrictions begin to ease?

I thank my hon. Friend for his years of service working in mental health. Mental health is one of this Government’s top priorities, and I assure him that we are doing our utmost to ensure that mental health services are there for everyone who needs them. Through the NHS long-term plan, we are expanding and transforming mental health services in England and investing an additional £2.3 billion a year in mental health services by 2023-24.

In addition, we have published our mental health recovery action plan, backed by a one-off targeted investment of £500 million in addition to the £2.3 billion, to ensure that we have the right support in place this year. The plan aims to respond to the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the public, specifically targeting groups that have been most impacted. We have set up a cross-Government ministerial group to monitor progress against the actions listed in the plan, and the group will also identify areas for further action and collaboration.

I welcome the priority put on young people’s mental health, which is perhaps more important now than ever. Will the Minister give an update on progress on implementing the proposals in the children and young people’s mental health Green Paper, particularly on mental health support teams in Hampshire and nationwide?

We are making good progress on implementing the Green Paper proposals, and I am pleased to say that we have established 11 mental health support teams in Hampshire. Nationwide, there are currently 180 mental health support teams, covering around 15% of pupils in England. Over 200 more are in training or being commissioned, and we expect to have around 400 in place by 2023-24, covering 35% of pupils. We recently announced £9.5 million to train thousands of senior mental health leads among school and college staff.

Last year, in my NHS trust 37% of children referred to mental health services were turned away. That was up from 28% the year before. That is 2,649 children not getting treatment despite referrals from professionals. That will be exacerbated, of course, by the acute children’s mental health unit at Ticehurst being shut and no new hospital provision commissioned.

It is not just Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust that is failing; it is services across the country. In 2019, 140,000 children were turned away from child and adolescent mental health services, and some experience exceptionally long waits. Is the Minister comfortable with these huge numbers of children being turned away from treatment? Does she think that these waiting times are acceptable? What message does she have for those children and families who do not receive the treatment that they desperately need?

The short answer to that question is no, and that is why we have committed an additional £500 million to address some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman highlights. However, I must reiterate that the majority of our targets, where they have been set, are being met. Sadly, in eating disorders—I hold my hands up—we are not meeting the targets that we want to, but as he may be aware, we are trialling four-week waiting targets for children and young people. The results of that review and pilot will be available soon.

We continue to look at ways in which we can increase access to services for children and young people. Children and young people have told me themselves, via organisations such as Barnardo’s, that they want their mental health services delivered in a different way. They do not want to go and sit in a village hall or a hospital, or wherever they may receive their services from community practitioners; they want some of their services delivered via their phones, laptops or computers. Obviously, one-to-one services have to be available where they are needed, but children and young people are demanding a change, and we are going through that change now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) raises a very important point and, frankly, I am shocked that the Minister seems so relaxed about it. Across the country, there are numerous children who have waited more than 400 days for help with autism; 280 days for post-traumatic stress disorder; 217 days for suicidal ideation; 195 days for treatment after an overdose—I could go on and on. Children should not have to wait so long for treatment. That will have a scarring impact on their development. These waiting times simply are not acceptable, so will the Minister apologise to these children, and can she explain where it went so wrong?

I do not believe that meeting almost all our targets for NHS waiting times for mental health services, with £2.3 billion a year of investment into our NHS and no NHS mental health service closing during the entire pandemic, has been a failure. Of course I am sorry for those children and young people who cannot get access to services as quickly as they want; that is exactly why we committed an additional £500 million and established a mental health recovery plan: so that we can put community services in place to reach those who have been impacted most by the pandemic over the past 15 months. We have a long-term plan in place, with the investment that the NHS tells us that that long-term plan needs to provide the very services that we want to provide. The mental health of children and young people is this Government’s priority. We will continue to invest, and are proving to continue to invest, to make sure that those children and young people access the services they need.