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Mental Health: Beds

Volume 755: debated on Tuesday 29 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to stop patients being unnecessarily sectioned because of shortages of mental health beds.

My Lords, we are not aware of any incidents of patients being unnecessarily sectioned. In June 2013, the Care Quality Commission asked for notification of such cases. It is for local clinical commissioning groups to commission the right number of in-patient beds to meet the mental health needs of their local population.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, although I am slightly surprised. Does the Minister agree that it is wholly unacceptable that, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, doctors are still being forced to section patients to get them their in-patient care? That follows a warning by the Health Select Committee last July on the need to investigate urgently whether patients are being sectioned for them to access psychiatric units, and report to Parliament on the prevalence of that practice. What action have the Government taken on that committee report? Will the Government, if they look carefully at those findings, consider making emergency funding available, similar to that which they made available to A&E departments in the winter, to immediately ease the mental health crisis in beds for adults and children?

My Lords, I am certainly aware that a number of concerns have been raised about the lack of mental health beds and that there are occasions when patients do not receive care quickly enough because approved mental health professionals cannot locate an appropriate bed. As I said in my original Answer, that is essentially a failing of local clinical commissioning. However, AMHPs—approved mental health professionals—should not be put in that position. We are consulting at the moment on a revised code of practice for the Mental Health Act. That consultation includes a specific question which asks what additional guidance should be included to ensure that AMHPs are not put in that position.

Does the Minister accept that depriving a citizen of their liberty is one of the most serious matters that can be undertaken in our society and that it should be done only for very sound reasons, certainly not because of the absence of provision for their needs? When the Minister kindly replied to a Question for Written Answer from me earlier in the year, he said:

“Local areas are expected to … deliver their own ‘Mental Health Crisis Declaration’”.—[Official Report, 18/6/14; col. WA70.]

Can he tell the House how many local areas have signed up to a declaration, and more particularly, how many have failed to do so?

My Lords, on the very last point, I do not have up-to-date figures, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord. However, on his main question, detention as a mechanism solely to secure access to hospital treatment would not be lawful. If hospitals or local authority staff think that that is happening or feel pressurised to admit people in that way, they should report it to their trust and, if necessary, to the Care Quality Commission. Sectioning under the Mental Health Act, which denies people their liberty, is a very serious matter. It should be done only when a person is a risk either to themselves or to other people and, as the noble Lord knows, it is a legal process. A patient cannot be sectioned merely to secure a bed.

My Lords, the survey referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, was of junior doctors in the Royal College of Psychiatrists. If it was somewhat anecdotal and they felt that they were unable to report it formally, can Ministers ask NHS England to ensure that there is a survey of how many doctors are having to use sectioning, to prevent this continuing?

It certainly is important that we get to the bottom of what is really happening. We take this issue very seriously. The Care Quality Commission intends to explore the issue of people being detained in order to access psychiatric units in its ongoing review of emergency mental health care. The findings of that review will be published later this year. The CQC’s Mental Health Act commissioner regularly and routinely looks at the lawfulness of detention. In fact, the Care Quality Commission is currently developing a new approach to its responsibilities as a regulator of the 1983 Act.

My Lords, as a former social worker I know all too well the real cost of sectioning people, the impact that it has and, of course, the immense cost to the overall economy. How will the Government ensure that communities are equipped to look after those with moderate needs, some of whom will have learning disabilities and conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, before a crisis point is reached?

The noble Baroness referred to people with moderate health needs, which is departing slightly from the Question on the Order Paper. However, I can tell her that mental health policy and its delivery is now a major focus. We have a mental health system board to ensure that all the elements of the health and care system work as effectively as possible together. There is a ministerial advisory group in operation. Parity of esteem is reflected in the NHS constitution and in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. We have challenged NHS England through the mandate to make measurable progress this year towards achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health.

My Lords, in 2013 a census found that three-quarters of people with a learning disability admitted to a specialist in-patient facility were subject to the Mental Health Act. For a third of these, learning disability was the only reason given for their admission, without any of the additional requirements under the Act for detention being met. What action are the Government taking to ensure that the Act is being used correctly in the care and treatment of people with a learning disability?

My Lords, if people with a learning disability are detained under the Act, this must be for assessment or treatment of mental illness. The person must satisfy the strict criteria laid down in the 1983 Act. When a learning disability is identified as well as a need for assessment or treatment of a mental disorder, the important thing is that alternatives to the use of the Mental Health Act are considered—for example, use of the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act and whether reasonable adjustments would assist the person with learning disabilities fully to access the assessment and treatment. This is an area we have explicitly covered in the draft code of practice, which is currently out for consultation.

My Lords, more black and ethnic minority people continue to be detained under the Mental Health Act. Can my noble friend the Minister say what is being done to address that issue?

Yes, my Lords, we know that BME groups are overrepresented in the detained patient population. The reasons for that are quite complex. Research studies indicate that rates of detention reflect the needs of patients at the time of detention. We know that the rates of psychosis, for example, are higher in some BME communities, and they often access mental health services in a crisis. The reasons for that are not entirely clear. We recognise that more work needs to be done to establish the causes of higher rates of mental illness in some communities.