Disability Benefits and Social Care

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 20th June 2012.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow The Minister of State, Department of Health 4:08 pm, 20th June 2012

First, I want to say on behalf of my colleague, my hon. Friend Maria Miller, who has responsibility for disabled people, that she has had to attend a Westminster Hall debate to respond to Meg Munn. She would have liked to attend the conclusion of our debate, however.

Last week, the House debated mental health on a Backbench Business Committee motion, and it made a powerful statement about the need to challenge stigma in mental health—a topic we have also touched on today. That earlier debate was made all the more powerful by a number of personal stories told by Members on both sides of the House. It was a debate that will be long-remembered by those who participated, and I know from the many e-mails and letters I have received that it reached well beyond the usual suspects who avidly follow our proceedings. That is also the case in respect of some of the issues raised in today’s debate.

Let me begin by referring back to an issue raised in the opening speech by Mr Byrne. It is an issue very dear to my heart as Minister with responsibility for mental health, and in respect of which the Government will shortly be coming forward with a suicide prevention strategy. I am talking about the issue of concerns that some constituents bring to our surgeries. I cannot talk about the individual case, but I will make sure that a ministerial colleague writes back to him once the details are known. What I can assure him and other hon. Members is that all staff are trained in dealing with vulnerable groups, including those with potential for self-harm. Occurrences of self-harm are rare, as are suicides. It is also worth saying that Atos has appointed mental health and cognitive intellectual champions to provide advice on handling any aspect of these cases, including dealing with cases of potential self-harm and suicide. I wanted to put that on the record because talk about suicide can itself be damaging, and I want to ensure that we address these issues correctly.