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Health: Mental Health

Volume 756: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce delays in the provision of mental health treatment.

Access and waiting times for people with mental health problems are a priority for this Government. We are committed to ensuring that access to services and waiting times are on a par with physical health. That is why we have put in place the first national waiting times standards in mental health.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that according to the widely respected Health Service Journal in April this year there were some 3,640 fewer nurses and some 213 fewer doctors working in mental health than two years ago? Surely it is unrealistic—not to say verging on the dishonest—to talk about the Government putting in place controls on access and waiting times when there is no prospect of achieving them.

If the noble Lord looks across the piece at the workforce statistics he will perhaps be more reassured than he is at the moment. The £400 million that we are putting into talking therapies, for example, will result in a workforce of 6,000 practitioners trained to deliver IAPT. Health Education England has increased the number of mental health nursing training places by 1.5%. In delivering a multidisciplinary workforce, the aim is to have skills that are transferable between different care settings. NICE will be publishing its authoritative guideline on safe staffing. We have already mandated NHS organisations to publish ward-level nursing with midwifery care staffing levels so that there is an incentive for them to make sure that they have their staffing levels right.

The Government’s five-year plan to improve access to mental health services makes no mention of people with intellectual disabilities who have mental health problems. What steps will the Government take to improve access for this group of patients who have a higher prevalence of mental illness and treatable mental disorders?

I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the five-year plan is truly ground-breaking in many respects. We have identified £40 million to spend this year to support people in mental health crisis and end the practice of young people being admitted to mental health wards. Another £80 million has been freed up for next year to ensure that waiting time standards become a reality, not just for those with mild mental health conditions but across the piece. I will write to the noble Baroness if I can glean any further information about those with a specific disability.

My Lords, one of the worrying consequences of the shortage of mental health beds is the number of patients who leave mental health wards and subsequently commit suicide within a short space of time. If a patient commits suicide within a short period of leaving in-patient care, it should be regarded as a never event. That would provide real parity of esteem alongside parity of funding and ensure that patient safety is at the heart of every patient’s release.

My noble friend makes an extremely important point. NHS England is currently reviewing the never events framework. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Care and Support will shortly be meeting NHS England officials to discuss the possibility of including suicide following in-patient care as a never event and how the new never events framework will support parity of esteem.

My Lords, NHS England made it clear last week that mental illness costs the economy an estimated £100 billion annually, which is roughly the cost of the entire NHS budget. How do the Government justify only 5.5% of the UK’s health research budget being allocated to mental health and, according to MIND today, a paltry 1.4% of Public Health England’s budget being spent on mental health? Is this what the Government mean by parity of esteem?

My Lords, investment in mental health research by the National Institute for Health Research has nearly doubled over the past four years from £40 million in 2009-10 to £72 million in 2013-14. I hope that the noble Lord will take from that that we put a priority on this. Of course, it is very important that local authorities do not downplay the significance of mental health. We have made it very clear that disinvestment is not an option for them. We are discussing with local authorities this very issue.

My Lords, will the Minister seek to encourage the very good practice of a few areas in providing a seamless service for young people leaving public care from the age of 16 to 25 or 14 to 25 so they get the mental health support to allow them to be successful in adulthood? Does he recognise that effective mental health services for children will much diminish the demand in adulthood?

I agree with the noble Earl. On 20 August the Minister of State for Care and Support announced a new children’s task force to look at all aspects of child and adolescent mental health services and how best to improve outcomes for children with mental health problems. Its remit includes an investigation of how access across the whole of children and young people’s mental health services could be improved. The task force will report in the spring of next year.

My Lords, following on from the noble Earl’s question, does the Minister agree that in the context of child mental health—and many of us are increasingly concerned about the younger and younger age at which people are being diagnosed with mental illness—prevention is as important as treatment, particularly in view of today’s news that less is being spent on prevention?

I agree with the noble Baroness. This is a crucially important area. She may like to note that in the current year we are investing an additional £7 million to end the practice of young people being admitted to mental health beds far away from where they live, or being inappropriately admitted to adult wards.