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Mental Health: North-west England

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What role the charitable sector is playing in the mental health sector in the north-west of England.

My Lords, the voluntary and community sector is a major provider of mental health services in north-west England. This sector represents a significant proportion of the mental health service capacity in the region. Voluntary organisations have a long history of providing extensive services which complement NHS social services and local authority provision.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is she aware of Making Space, a leading organisation that operates throughout the north-west, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and recently London, of which I am the patron? It caters for more than 6,000 patients, relatives and carers each day and has attained its 25th anniversary. Will she join me in welcoming this and wishing the organisation all the very best for the future?

My Lords, I certainly am aware of the excellent work done by Making Space. I am delighted to join my noble friend in congratulating the organisation on its 25th anniversary and thanking it for its invaluable work in supporting people with mental health problems. The expansion of Making Space, as outlined by my noble friend, is a real testament to the quality of its services, which it provides not just to people with mental health problems but to their families and carers. I take this opportunity to thank my noble friend for his invaluable contribution as patron of that organisation.

My Lords, the north-west of England has a complex mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups and people speaking different languages, from well established south Asian populations and African-Caribbean communities through to newly arrived refugee and asylum-seeker groups. It is clear that many of them suffer tremendous mental health problems and disadvantages. What are the Government doing to make sure that those groups are involved in mental health services locally and that local charities are not only encouraged but commissioned to deliver local mental healthcare to them?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that mental healthcare provision in the north-west is a complex matter, given the diverse ethnic mix of people living there and their many disadvantages. The Government are well aware that in the past we may not have commissioned services as we should have done. We are now working with the voluntary sector and social services to ensure better commissioning on the ground so that people in local areas can receive the mental healthcare that is best suited to their needs.

My Lords, does the Department of Health keep under review the number of different service providers in the mental health field? Will it keep under review the implementation of the 2010 directive on tendering and procurement, which is causing many small providers to go out of business?

My Lords, I am sure that the department keeps under review the varied providers of mental healthcare in the community. In respect of 2010, I will seek the information that the noble Baroness requires and write to her. Clearly, tendering procedures are extremely important, and I am sure that they are kept under review.

My Lords, in the north-west as elsewhere, the voluntary and community sector stands ready to provide such services for those with mental health problems and others, but the problem often lies with the commissioning, as my noble friend said. Can the Minister give more details about the training that will be available to commissioners and potential commissioners to ensure that they do not just commission the services that they have always used, but look towards more innovative projects, particularly those that are user-focused, which can be provided by the voluntary and community sector?

My Lords, the word “innovative” is the key. We must ensure that commissioning is truly innovative and that it can provide good, new and invaluable services to people on the ground. One of the important things that the Government have done is to set up the Third Sector and Social Enterprise Delivery Board, one of whose objectives is to create increased opportunities for third sector organisations to inform and influence NHS and local authority commissioning and to participate in the provision of NHS and social care services.

My Lords, the Commission for Social Care Inspection reported in December last year that 35 per cent of carers—people caring for relatives or friends at home—have never received any form of support, either through the benefits system or by means of respite care. What are the Government doing to identify that cohort of carers and to offer them support where needed?

My Lords, the millions of carers in this country certainly deserve our support in every possible way. The Government have striven to improve the support that they give to carers. Of the 7 million carers, one in 10 men and one in five women themselves have mental health problems. We have a duty to help them. One of the most important things that the Government are doing is reviewing the National Carers Strategy. When the Government have completed that review, they will be able to implement more policies to support carers in their invaluable work.

My Lords, I noticed the other day that there is now a unit in the Cabinet Office with a substantial staff working under someone with the title director-general of the Office of the Third Sector. Quite what does that Cabinet Office unit do?

My Lords, I do not have a complete definition of what that directorate does, but clearly one thing that it will be doing is ensuring that there is better partnership working between the third sector, social enterprise, the NHS and social services, so that we have the sort of joined-up working and thinking that so many noble Lords request all the time.