Mental Health: Digital Platforms

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle 12:00 am, 21st March 2017

What steps his Department is taking to use digital platforms to encourage people to access help to support their mental health and wellbeing.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The Prime Minister herself announced our commitment to developing and expanding digital mental health services, and we have backed that with an investment of more than £65 million. This work includes improving digital technology for the mental healthcare system, developing digital tools and therapies, and improving mental health information and services provided through nhs.uk and 111 platforms.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

The Minister will know that for people with mental health problems, attending accident and emergency or going to see their GP is not always the best point of intervention, so I welcome measures to improve accessibility. Stockport Healthy Minds, which serves my constituency of Cheadle, provides a range of services such as online self-help courses, one-to-one therapy sessions, and group workshops. What is her Department doing to provide projects like Healthy Minds with the support and accessibility they need?

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

In addition to the funding that we are providing to improve the mental health pathways through nhs.uk and 111, we are providing £500,000 for the development of six digital tools, with a particular focus on children and young people’s mental health. I pay tribute to the work of Healthy Minds in my hon. Friend’s constituency and to her own championing of this issue.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Labour, Hyndburn

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker, for your asking me to ask a question. Mental health is a really serious, and growing, problem. I have been out with my local police force and I appreciate the emphasis on digital technology, but what are we doing on the frontline as well? We cannot just have digital operations. In the Lancashire constabulary, because of the Government’s cuts, we are removing the mental health worker from the frontline force. While we may be doing something around digital, we are removing mental health services, because that post goes on 31 March. Is this not ridiculous? Is it not the case that the Government do not have a coherent policy on mental health?

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman misrepresents the situation entirely. Not only are we investing an extra £1 billion year in mental health services and expanding mental health services at a faster rate than anywhere else in Europe, but we have invested £15 million extra in places of safety for those in crisis and are expanding triage services, precisely to address the problem that he raises of those in mental health crisis who come into contact with the criminal justice service.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

While digital platforms can be useful in guiding patients to the right service, does the Minister accept that there are still huge shortages of people who can carry out talking therapies, and long waits for child and adolescent mental health services? When are the Government going to stop talking about improving mental health services and actually ensure that the money is going where it is needed to recruit staff?

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

We are working extremely hard on increasing staff. We are not only introducing our new mental health workforce strategy, which we will publish shortly, but increasing the number of people who are seeing these services. Four million extra people have seen psychiatry services—talking therapies—and 90% of those patients are being seen within six weeks, which is exceeding our waiting time target.