Mental Health Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:40 pm on 7th February 2006.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health 4:40 pm, 7th February 2006

No, I shall not. [Hon Members: "Go on."] No, not even briefly.

Before I consider broader policy matters, I want to examine emergency provision in circumstances in which a family member with mental health problems, who perhaps lives in a care setting, comes home, for example, for Christmas and things go wrong. I have recently come across two cases of people with mental health problems spending the night in a prison cell. Parts of the country have a protocol whereby that should not happen, but it has happened twice in my area relatively recently. At short notice, there was nowhere for those people to go and they ended up in a prison cell. That was traumatic for the family and the individuals, and the police knew that it was the wrong place for them. Will the Minister say something about short-notice crisis provision and alternatives to a prison cell?

As I said, we must consider whether GPs need substantially more training and whether there are alternative ways of accessing mental health services. However, we must take into account not only the mental but the physical health of those with mental health problems. When I recently attended an event that was organised by the charity Rethink, I was startled to discover that people with severe mental health problems can expect to live perhaps 15 or 20 years less than someone with similar physical problems.

For example, American evidence shows that people with severe mental health problems who develop cancer are 50 per cent. more likely to die of it than those without mental health problems. There are genuine worries about the ability of people with mental health problems to access care for their physical health. Looking after people's physical health helps their mental health. We need a much broader agenda that does not separate budgets for mental health and for physical health but perceives them as an integrated whole because one can beneficially feed into the other.

Mr. Flello mentioned mental health services for children and adolescents. He rightly said that much good work is being done. However, the charity YoungMinds suggests that the pressures on primary care trust budgets mean that those for community and adolescent mental health services are also under pressure. What reassurances can the Minister give that those groups are being properly looked after?

Let us consider the other end of the age scale. Many hon. Members will have attended a Mind event entitled "Access all ages" about mental health provision for older people. There is a danger that society assumes that those who are old become "a bit senile" and that mental health deterioration is simply part of getting old. We need to counter that assumption and ensure that we do not take it for granted that older people will have mental health problems.

This week, the Commission for Social Care Inspection published a report, with which the Minister will be familiar, which found that the management of many elderly people's medication in care homes is inadequate. That will undermine the mental health of many vulnerable older people and I am worried about that.

The motion mentions the position of those in black and minority ethnic communities, who are more likely to be in hospital with mental health problems, to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 and to be physically restrained. Do the Government understand the reasons for that and how far it is due to discrimination or different patterns of provisions? What is being done about that?

Let us consider positive action that can and should be taken. The Minister will have come across the Institute for Public Policy Research report that was published last year on "Mental Health in the Mainstream", which makes several specific recommendations. I shall touch on just a couple of those recommendations. First, the report talks about getting access workers into health services where GPs are inappropriate. What does the Minister think about that idea? How seriously has it been taken over the past few months? Secondly, it considers the use of "non-pharmacological" treatments, therapies and so on, and says that the key is prevention—getting in early, before things get out of hand.

Before concluding, I want to mention a couple of wider issues. The first has been mentioned already in the debate—the position of people with mental health problems in respect of the incapacity benefit system. It is worrying that the Government are proposing a carrot-and-stick approach: although it is possible that more money will be given to those people who jump through the right hoops when they apply for the benefit, the stick of sanctions might be applied to others. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Work and Pensions about the impact on mental health patients who fear that they will lose their benefit if they do not do certain things? What assessment has she asked that Department to make of the impact that changes to incapacity benefit will have on people with mental health problems?

There are three prisons in my constituency, so I was pleased that the problem of mental health in prisons has been raised. However, if we think that the mental health service as a whole is a Cinderella service, the mental health service in prisons is even lower down the scale. I am pleased that mental health in prisons is now the responsibility of the Department of Health and not the Home Office, but will the Minister say what progress is being made? There have been an alarming number of suicides over the past few years at the Eastwood Park women's prison in my constituency: how much of a priority is that for the Government?

Finally, mention has been made of the mental health Bill, which has yet to be published. So far in the debate, the Government have said some relatively enlightened things about the importance of mental health, and about prevention. However, that contrasts with the tabloid-driven, draconian, lock-'em-up mentality that seems to underlie the forthcoming Bill. I hope that the Department of Health will take ownership of the Bill and not allow the grubby hands of the Home Office to be all over it. We need a mental health approach to these matters, not the law-and-order approach driven by tabloid scare stories that is inappropriate in the vast majority of cases. Although there is agreement today that we should not stigmatise people with mental health problems, there is a real danger that that is precisely what the Bill will do.

This a vital and valuable debate. My concern is that the people in GPs' surgeries providing the front-line provision for those with mental health problems are not adequately trained or resourced. As we have heard, mental health services are being squeezed as deficits get shunted around. A key remedy would be to pool resources across different forms of health and social care, so that provision is made for the whole person and the totality of his or her needs. We must not see people only in terms of what is wrong with one part of their lives. That is the more enlightened approach that we in the Liberal Democrat party advocate.


Posted on 12 Feb 2006 11:50 am (Report this annotation)

If this bill is allowed to go through many more vulnerable people will be detained against their will...this violates our human rights...this bill is about power and control ...not about therapeutic care... it is barbaric and must be stopped...the government and media are causing stigma and discrimination...they incite the public into believing that those who have been bruised by life are dangerous ...this bill is about the protection of the public and not about the care of the short this is a bill out of the home office rather than the health department...the new act needs to be written by us for us...those who have used services and their carers have first hand experience of what is necessary...this new act should be about respect and dignity...and receiving the services we deserve, desire and choose...there are only 30,000 psychiatric beds left in this country…we are entitled to a safe place where these services can be delivered...and not a police cell which is so often the case...this bill will allow ANYONE to be contained and treated against their will… this gives the authorities power over every citizen no matter their ethnicity, creed or religion…

unless you are an MP and elite then their sectioning process is different……

If you want to stop the draft mental health bill and agree with the above please sign this Petition…

"bruised uk”