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Access to Mental Health Services

Volume 729: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2023

We are investing an additional £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24 so that 2 million more people can access NHS-funded mental health support.

Research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that between July 2021 and July 2022, referrals to child and adolescent mental health services increased by 24%. Labour has set out a fully costed plan to recruit 8,500 new staff. Why have the Government failed to produce their own plan to recruit more mental health staff to reduce waiting times?

We are recruiting more mental health workers, with 7,400 more full-time equivalents in September 2022 compared with September 2021. That reflects the significant additional funding we are providing—the extra £2.3 billion going in by 2023-24.

Perinatal mental health problems affect one in four new or expectant mothers, and 40% of deaths in the first year after pregnancy are related to mental health. What steps are the Government taking to improve support for women with perinatal mental health needs, particularly in the light of the women’s health strategy?

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important subject. As well as the additional investment and extra workforce we are putting into mental health, we are looking at this issue as part of our strategies in other areas—for example, our suicide strategy—and examining our capital investment. There is a range of measures to address this very important issue.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the evidence on the use of psychedelic drugs for more effective mental health care. Last month Australia, having assessed the evidence on psilocybin, started the rescheduling process, and Australians suffering from depression will be able to access this medicine from July. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration has recognised psilocybin as a breakthrough therapy for depression. In Canada, the special access programme allows physicians to request a licence for assisted therapy under certain conditions. Our drug laws remain based on a 50-year-old, unevidenced, prejudiced assessment and nothing else. The Home Office has never commissioned evidence on psilocybin. Does my right hon. Friend understand that this is a primary public health issue, on which he should lead?

I recognise the close interest my hon. Friend takes in this matter, and he is right to draw the House’s attention to international best practice. I agree that we should take an evidence-based approach in which we look at the data shared with regulators in other countries, such as Australia. I am happy to draw the point he makes to the attention of our regulators.

Anorexia affects many young people. One of my constituents had to give up work to look after her daughter, who was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and made a number of attempts to overdose—the latest just two weeks ago. The daughter is also suspected to be suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder and an autism spectrum disorder, but has been told that the wait for diagnosis is over two years. Will my right hon. Friend outline what support we can give my constituent and her family? Have we thought about providing personal budgets, so that if the NHS is unable to treat an individual, they can seek treatment outside the NHS?

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, and I am happy to look into the individual case she describes. Our wider objective in providing extra funding is to ensure that we treat more people, with 2 million more people accessing NHS-funded mental health support by 2023-24 and the number of patients in talking therapies last year up by a fifth from the year before.

There is a mental health staffing crisis of the Government’s own making. Figures out last week show that there are more than 28,000 mental health vacancies in our NHS, which is up on the year before and the year before that. Are we seeing a pattern here? The number of mental health nurses is down 5% since 2010, but do not worry, Mr Speaker: just so the Secretary of State is aware, Labour has a plan to recruit and retain more mental health staff and to get waiting times down. Can he put a word in with the Chancellor in case he wants to nick that too?

It is always good to find a plan that the hon. Lady actually agrees with the shadow Health Secretary on. As we know from her questions, that is not always the case, not least on the use of the independent sector. What we do know is that she has a habit of writing her questions before she hears the previous answer. I just reminded the House of the 7,400 more staff in mental health in September 2022 compared with September 2021. Obviously she had written her question before that point.