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Mental Health Services: Young People

Volume 762: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to develop mental health services for pupils and young people.

My Lords, we are committed to transforming children and young people’s mental health and well-being across health, social care and education. The Department of Health is working with the Department for Education and other key partners to develop more seamless and integrated mental health services for pupils and young people. Work is under way to pilot single points of contact in schools and mental health services, and joint training to improve access to mental health advice and support in schools.

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is a sobering thought that, in every classroom, three pupils have a diagnosable mental health problem. Does the Minister agree that, when pupils are referred, there should be an agreed, minimum time by which they are seen?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. He is right that, out of a class of 30 children, three are probably suffering from diagnosable mental health problems. The Government are commissioning a prevalence survey to establish more precisely what that number is. There is a feeling that it will be increasing with the use of social media and more bullying in schools. I agree with the noble Lord that we must make it easier to access talking therapies in particular and the Government have plans to do that.

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that children and young people with serious mental health problems are not treated on adult psychiatric wards, alongside fairly dangerous adults, that they can access appropriate child mental health services, and that they do not have to travel hundreds of miles across the country to do so?

The Government have committed to spending £150 million over the next five years on children who are suffering from eating disorders. This may partly answer the noble Lord’s question. They have also now committed to spending £1.25 billion over the next five years to develop mental health services for children and young adults. That is against a background of our current spending of about £700 million, so we are talking about doubling the spend. Doubling the spend does not mean doubling the benefit and output, but the noble Lord can be assured that it is an absolute priority of this Government to tackle mental health problems right where they start: when people are young.

My Lords, mental health cannot be considered in isolation from the rest of life. For example, a number of recent deaths of young people by suicide have been connected to their use of the internet or social media. Is the Minister prepared to work with the Department for Education, other education providers and others to produce a rounded programme of support for the whole person in their context? Will he also indicate the Government’s support for the Online Safety Bill, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. I am not aware of the Bill to which he refers. I hope he will excuse me for that; I will find out about it after today. The right reverend Prelate asked whether we will work with other parts of the Government, particularly the Department for Education. I assure him that we are doing so.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s prevalence survey. However, does the Minister’s department have any idea at this time of the length of waiting lists and the number of children waiting for very specialist intervention from psychiatrists and psychologists? I hear from groups of people that the waiting lists are growing and the time children spend waiting is getting longer. For a child with a mental health problem, every day makes it worse. What are the Government doing about that? Does the Minister have the numbers?

I do not have the numbers to hand, but I can tell the noble Baroness that the number of beds that have been commissioned has increased significantly over the last three years and I think 1,250 tier-1 beds are now available. The noble Baroness puts her finger on it: the way we provide treatment for people suffering from mental health conditions—and have done for many years—falls far short of what we would expect for people suffering from equivalent physical conditions. We often talk about parity of esteem quite glibly, without putting the necessary resources behind it. The Government are determined to do so.

My Lords, it is welcome that the Government have decided to ban the use of police cells for children detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. However, what action is being taken to ensure that there are appropriate places of safety in every locality? Will the Minister confirm that adult psychiatric wards will not be used as places of safety for children?

The use of police cells for anybody suffering a mental health crisis, but particularly for children, is wholly unacceptable. Last year, the number of children who were held in a police cell was 160. That has come down from a much higher number. The Government and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary are determined to stop this happening—indeed, legislation is about to go through the other place to ensure that it does not happen. But that leads to the question of where, if not to a police cell, they should go. I have been told that there is a risk that young people going through a mental health crisis might actually be arrested to make them eligible to come into a police cell, which would of course be equally unacceptable. The number is getting much smaller and I hope that if I am here in a year’s time it will be down to zero.

My Lords, the previous answer made it clear that a significant proportion of the pupils and young people the Question refers to are in custody. Can the Minister assure us that there is equality of treatment, within both the spend and the survey he referred to, for those children in these dire circumstances?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. I am not sure that I totally got the question, but I can say that keeping a young person in custody is the absolute last resort. The police do not wish to do it and do so only when there is no bed available in an appropriate, safe setting. The issue is the availability of beds. It is better for a child to be in a single room on an adult psychiatric ward than in a police cell.