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Health: Talking Therapy

Volume 750: debated on Tuesday 3 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to create a legal right to talking therapy as part of their commitment to ensure parity of esteem between mental and physical health.

My Lords, the department has no plans to create a legal right to talking therapies. Mental health and parity of esteem are key priorities for NHS England. The Government’s mandate to NHS England makes it clear that everyone who needs it should have timely access to evidence-based services, which involves extending access to talking therapies. We are working with NHS England to develop standards on access and waiting times across mental health from 2015.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his Answer, but I still have serious concerns about the services that mental health patients receive. I do not often quote the noble Lord, Lord Freud, but last month he said that,

“the association between poor mental health and poverty is clear”.—[Official Report, 7/11/13; col. 324.]

However, despite people’s increasing stress due to poverty, the cost of living and zero-hours contracts, the Government have cut mental health spending in real terms in the past two years. Funding for therapies not included in IAPT has been cut by 5%, despite ministerial assurances that this would not happen. Last week, the We Need to Talk coalition released a report that revealed that more than half of mental health patients are waiting at least three months for treatment. Can the Minister commit to reducing those waiting times by March 2015, the date by which time the Government are committed to making progress towards that important parity of esteem?

My Lords, I agree that waiting times for talking therapies are too long, and we are taking energetic steps to address that within the bounds of affordability. In the context of the noble Baroness’s main Question, what surely matters is the quality of outcomes, rather than just the extent of inputs. We set the outcomes that we expect the NHS to achieve in the NHS outcomes framework. There are a number of outcomes in there specifically for people with mental health problems, and others, about the quality of services. It is up to commissioners to prioritise their resources to meet those outcomes for the population based on assessments of need, and we will hold them to account for that.

My Lords, I entirely support my noble friend’s commitment to good outcomes, but those also require sufficient inputs. If the noble Baroness’s request for a right to talking therapy were implemented tomorrow, it would completely collapse because there simply are not enough trained therapists to provide the care that is required. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that in future there will be sufficient trained therapists to provide the parity of care for those with mental illness that is available to those with physical illness?

I can assure my noble friend that Health Education England has it in its sights to make sure that sufficient numbers of professionals are trained in the talking therapies, and that work is ongoing.

My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said about having staff who can provide appropriate talking therapies, and what the Minister himself said about someone who needs a service receiving it, we have a long history in the mental health field of mental health practitioners not referring certain minority-ethnic groups such as the south Asian and black African communities for talking therapies. I believe that that is still the case with referrals to the CBT programme. What are the Government doing to address this imbalance?

I can tell the noble Lord that IAPT is working with a number of BME groups to promote wider access to the service from all sections of the community. A grant scheme will shortly be launched to encourage community-based interventions to increase uptake of talking therapies, including from BME groups.

My Lords, will the Minister kindly tell the House roughly what percentage of in-patients and out-patients suffer from mental health problems compared with those who suffer from physical health problems? Can he say, roughly, how the resources of the NHS are divided between the two camps on a revenue basis? I have the clear impression that traditionally mental health has been short-changed for very many years.

My Lords, the noble Lord’s perception would be shared by many, which is why we have been very clear in our mandate to NHS England that parity of esteem is of the essence, and we will hold the service to account for that. I do not have the specific statistics that the noble Lord seeks but we know that more people are being treated in secondary mental health services now than two or three years ago. However, the proportion who needed to be admitted to in-patient psychiatric care fell over that period, and that reflects increasing emphasis on care in the community.

My Lords, as someone who has benefited from CBT on a number of occasions, may I ask whether the noble Earl agrees that it is not just a question of whether people need the therapy but rather that they receive enough of it? Following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, about the number of people who could benefit from this, what is the average number of sessions of talking therapy that a National Health Service mental health patient will receive and is it, generally speaking, enough?

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness as I do not have that information in my brief. If it is available, I will write to her with the answer.

Will my noble friend assure the House that this rule of parity will be introduced in the Prison Service as well as the National Health Service generally?

My Lords, we are very clear that parity of esteem in mental health compared with physical health should apply in all clinical settings.

Does the noble Earl share my concern about the overprescription of psychiatric drugs? Can he think of anything to do about this apart from encouraging CBT and talking therapies?

My Lords, the noble Earl is right. I share his concern, and I think it has been a widespread concern across the mental health community. Nowadays, the guidance given to doctors is much broader than the guidance that was given some years ago. It embraces the talking therapies in particular and it seeks to avoid the overprescription of sometimes very strong pharmaceutical products.