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Mental Health: Spirituality

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have to further the work of the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum in the light of the devolution of care services improvement partnership funding to regional areas.

My Lords, the National Institute for Mental Health in England has worked with various faith groups, including the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum and looks forward to maintaining positive relationships with these groups.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that after seven years of demonstrably successful work at a time when the new Mental Health Act is causing great anxiety among black and minority-ethnic groups because of their overrepresentation in compulsory mental health services, it is a great shame that a project that increases the understanding of cultural and religious beliefs in the expression of mental illness is apparently coming to an end? Does she also agree that it is a government priority that staff are trained in the understanding of the culture and beliefs of service users and carers?

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, is widely respected for her work and expertise in this area. The loss of the forum would be a very serious setback. However, I am optimistic that the work of the forum will continue, though it will be organised at local level with the regional centres which are committed to working with it. The forum has now formally established itself as a charitable organisation and can apply for funding in its own right. The noble Baroness is perfectly correct about staff training. Indeed, that is part of the Government’s programme for race equality delivery in the mental health programme.

My Lords, I understand that most programmes and projects connected with NIMHE are being carried forward under the continuity programme until at least September this year. Will the Minister explain why this important project is being singled out for adverse treatment by removing its national strategic focus when the Prime Minister’s new year message emphasised the importance of faith and human dignity?

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question, and I was pleased to note that the Synod of the Church of England debated spirituality and mental health at its meeting last week. The Government have not singled out this organisation for detrimental treatment. Indeed, I am assured that now that the forum is properly established as a voluntary organisation it is in a position to seek financial support through different sources, including Section 64 of the general scheme through which the Department of Health provides support for the voluntary and community sector. I am also assured that NIMHE—a rather unfortunate acronym—will be happy to support the forum as it seeks to attract such funding.

My Lords, as Britain is becoming increasingly multicultural and multifaith, is it not essential that we have a real progressive policy from the Government to meet the needs of all sections of the community, and have well trained social workers, psychologists and others who can really deal with the issues, instead of decreasing this facility?

My Lords, that is a very important question. Noble Lords will know that some of the reasons for the seeming overrepresentation of BME communities are very complex and not fully understood. There is strong evidence of high rates of severe mental illness among BME communities, and the NHS needs to reach people in these communities. The implementation of the action plan to deliver race equality of mental health care remains the single largest project of the institute’s work.

My Lords, has the Department of Health given an instruction to strategic health authorities and those commissioning services that the spirituality concerns of patients with mental illness are particularly important and that they are clearly outlined in the book by David Enoch, I want a Christian Psychiatrist, in which he describes the importance of trust in establishing a therapeutic relationship, particularly with those who have entered the criminal sector through their mental health disturbances?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is completely correct that spirituality involves a dimension of human experience that psychiatrists are increasingly interested in because of its potential benefits to mental health. However, your Lordships will also know that local priorities are set locally. Local PCTs are being encouraged, through their relevant strategic health authority, to plan and develop services according to the needs of their local communities and are being given the resources to do this.

My Lords, given the agreement around the House that spirituality plays a major role in the mental illness of some people in some of our hospitals and in our communities, can the Minister tell us what the Government will do to ensure that there is further training in spirituality of all faiths for those working in mental health? That training should include chaplains working in mental health.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct and would certainly be familiar with this. Psychiatrists, patients and carers should all be fully informed about local chaplaincy services, and know that they now involve clergy and other personnel from many faiths and humanist organisations, as well as several Christian denominations. Chaplains have made a point of establishing good relations across the field. Close liaison with mental health teams will support a holistic approach in this area.

My Lords, is the Minister confident that the aims that she has articulated can be successfully delivered at local level, rather than at national level as at present?

My Lords, the Government have been committed to an improvement in mental health services from the outset. Indeed, from 2001-02 to 2006-07, investment in adult mental health services increased by 31 per cent, or £1.2 billion. We now have 760 new mental health teams working in the community, 55 per cent more consultant psychiatrists, 70 per cent more clinical psychologists and at least 20 per cent more mental health nurses. We are doing our part to deliver this agenda.