Skip to main content

Brexit: Mental Health Research Funding

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 23 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to match the current European Union contribution towards United Kingdom mental health research funding after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

My Lords, the Government have made clear that UK businesses and universities should continue to bid for competitive EU funds while we remain a member of the European Union and that we will work with the Commission to ensure payment when funds are awarded. The Government will underwrite the payment of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the European Union. This will include mental health research funded by the Horizon 2020 programme.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the Government’s promise in the May manifesto:

“We will make the UK the leading research and technology economy in the world for mental health”?

I am reassured by some of the Answer he gave, but he has not given a firm commitment that this will continue after Brexit. Will he give such a commitment; and given the promise that was made in the manifesto, will he outline how the Government intend to increase the amount of research that will be undertaken in mental health in the future?

In our future partnership paper we have set out that we want an ambitious agreement on science and innovation and that we will continue, albeit in a new form, to collaborate with the European Union on health research, including mental health research. On honouring the bids that were underwritten, I should point out that that applies not just to bids or projects that are taking place but to bids that have been submitted up until exit day, so there is a long lead time. It is also important to point out what the Government have been doing domestically. For example, the National Institute for Health Research has increased by over 50% the amount of funding that it puts into mental health research, so the Government have been going a long way in increasing the amount of funding in this area.

My Lords, cancer research gets 25% of the UK’s annual research budget. The Minister mentioned that there has been an increase in the research money available for mental health but, as I understand it, mental illness gets only about 6% of the research budget. Why is that, and is there hope that that will be improved?

In relation to the NIHR funding that I talked about and the specialist disease areas that receive funding, mental health is second only to cancer, so it is getting a great deal of funding. I could talk about the increase in the Medical Research Council’s budget and so on, but more funding is going in specifically to mental health research.

My Lords, the UK is currently the second-largest receiver of research funding from the EU—second only to Germany—and is among the most productive places in the world in mental health research output. Does the Minister share my concern that the best will follow the money to the USA or elsewhere?

As I set out in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, the intention is to continue our relationship with and involvement in cross-EU health projects. Other third-party countries do that, and there is no reason why that would not be the case. In terms of the workforce, which I think is what the noble Baroness was referring to, the Prime Minister has been very clear that we want to continue to attract the brightest and best to this country. Once we have left the European Union, our immigration system will be set up to do just that.

My Lords, is not this yet another area where there is really no such thing as EU funding? Do the Government agree that the contribution to which this Question refers comes out of the £10 billion per annum which we pay to Brussels and which it sends back? That is not to mention the additional £10 billion per annum which we pay to Brussels in net cash. So surely the Government can agree without qualification to fully fund this very important service and, if necessary, increase it after Brexit.

The noble Lord is right that the European Union does not in itself have a tax base and that we are a net contributor to European Union budgets. As I said, our intention is to continue to have a productive relationship with the European Union as a third party, contributing to research budgets and benefiting from them, as we do, in terms of both funding and the people who work together on these important areas.

My Lords, the European Commission made it very clear in October 2017 that British researchers funded under Horizon 2020 programmes will lose access to their grants in the future. Given that the EU is the largest single funder of mental health research in Europe and that the UK is a net gainer, will the Minister inform the House when we will see the plans to ensure that the UK remains a leading contributor and beneficiary of European-wide mental health research?

As I said, we continue to bid for funds that we can draw down, and the Government are committed to underwriting any successful bids as part of the Horizon 2020 programme. Our intention is to continue in that programme. Obviously, if that is not the case, we will have funding available to support health research in this area, but our intention is to continue with the partnership that has proved so fruitful.

Will the Minister accept that, in spite of all the wonderful research, Britain is falling way behind at the point of need and that on the streets and among the poorest in this country, mental health support has completely disappeared?

I totally do not accept that proposition. Mental health is certainly a problem in this country. One in six adults and one in 10 children has a common mental health disorder, and those figures are pretty devastating. However, the Government have been increasing funding for mental health. It has gone up by 8.4% over the last two years, so there is funding. There are more staff in mental health trusts and we have pledged to treat 70,000 more children. Therefore, we are putting the money in and getting better results.