Mental Health

Part of Backbench Business — [1st Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 14th June 2012.

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Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 4:31 pm, 14th June 2012

I want to keep my remarks quite brief, because I know that many other hon. Members are keen to speak. Let me start by apologising to Nicky Morgan for not being in the Chamber for the start of the debate. I heard some of her thoughtful and comprehensive remarks on the television before I got in here, and I congratulate her on securing this debate. May I also say how powerful and honest the speeches that we heard from Mr Walker and my hon. Friend Mr Jones were? I echo what the Minister said earlier, which is that this place is often at its best when people speak from their personal experience, rather than quoting statistics from briefings that we have been sent or things that we have read in the newspaper. It reassures everyone outside this place that we are also human beings, as well as Members of Parliament.

I have little expertise in this matter. Having said that, I have a close family member who has suffered obsessive compulsive disorder and psychosis in the past, and I have two very close friends who also suffer from OCD. I know how difficult it can be for them to overcome some of the challenges they face, so I think it is important that we have this debate today. I want to focus on the huge challenge of providing high-quality mental health services in what are difficult economic times. Given the tone of the debate, I do not want to turn this into a piece of political knockabout, but I do want to speak about the reality of the situation in my constituency, where a number of mental health facilities either are threatened with closure or have already been scaled back.

The shadow Secretary of State for Health spoke earlier about how the mental health system is somewhat separate from the rest of the NHS. However, the mental health system is also facing considerable budgetary pressures—just as the rest of the NHS is—which is having an impact on some of the people we represent. During the parliamentary recess I visited a continuing care home for elderly mental health patients which is wholly funded by the NHS. The patients there are elderly people, often in their 60s, 70s or 80s, who have been sectioned and who have significant mental health needs, in terms of both medical and care support. The centre, in Granville Park in Lewisham, is threatened with closure. The service is excellent and the care provided is exemplary, and the families of the people who live there are incredibly concerned by the proposal to shut the unit down. South London and Maudsley NHS Trust is consulting on the closure. It claims that it has too many beds of that kind and says that it wants to scale back provision in Lewisham.

My constituents know that many more elderly people have significant mental health needs so it is hard for them to understand why a mental health centre should be closed. I have to say that the way in which the consultation has been conducted is far from perfect. Parts of it just do not make sense. I have raised my concerns with the PCT and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Also threatened with closure are therapeutic care services for adults who have much lower mental health needs. A fantastic centre, known as the network arts centre in Lee, has been threatened with closure. I hope that the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust will find a way to maintain the provision by setting it up as some form of social enterprise. This is a place where adults with mental health needs—perhaps not as significant as others’, as I said—can come together and enjoy arts-based therapy in a setting that helps them to take the next step towards their recovery. I am hopeful of finding a way through that situation, but when services like this are threatened with closure, it is a matter of huge concern to the people who use them.

I said that I would focus my remarks on the challenge of providing high-quality mental health services in difficult economic times, and the budgetary pressures faced by public services is one of them. Another is the greater uncertainty that individuals themselves face, which some hon. Members have touched on. A few weeks ago, I visited Mencap in Lewisham and met a group of people who were primarily carers for people with mental health difficulties. The questions they wanted to ask me were about the work capability assessment for the employment and support allowance; they wanted to ask me about the process their loved ones would have to go through in transferring from disability living allowance to personal independence payments; they wanted to ask me about the changes to local council provision of day centres.

What struck me was the great deal of uncertainty in the lives of people living with mental health problems and the people who are caring for them.

We heard from the shadow Secretary of State about the importance of getting advice and support to people in difficult times, and he mentioned the miners in Easington. That brings it home that we all—the Government and councils—need to recognise the importance of getting that local advice and support to people when they face this uncertainty, which only adds to people’s stress and problems.

The mental health charity Mind sent me some details of its information line. It told me that in the last 12 months, it had received 40,000 inquiries, but that unfortunately, because of the pressure it is currently under, two out of five of those calls went unanswered. Since the start of recession, Mind has seen a 100% increase in the number of calls relating to personal finances and employment. We need to understand the worries of people out there, and find a way to do more to recognise the importance of the local services that provide support and assistance.

I said that I would be brief as others wished to speak. I think we have had a thoroughly excellent debate and I congratulate those who made it happen. I look forward to hearing the remaining contributions.