Mental Health Act 1983

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:07 pm on 11th July 2017.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:07 pm, 11th July 2017

I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford not only on securing the debate, but on the measured way he has approached it. He highlighted some of the really serious challenges faced by the police and the emergency services in dealing effectively, but also humanely, with those who are in a mental health crisis. We can all agree that this is a very important topic.

For far too long, the subject of mental ill health has not received appropriate attention. The services for those experiencing mental ill health are sometimes not what they should be, and people have been faced with long waits for the help and support they should have received.

However, the Government have made clear their utter determination to improve mental health services, and we have made considerable progress in recent years to address the serious concerns we are discussing tonight. In particular, the use of police cells as places of safety under the Mental Health Act has fallen significantly. Last year, it was down to as few as only 2,100 instances. Some forces, such as Hertfordshire and Merseyside, have achieved zero use of police stations, while others, including West Midlands, Suffolk, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, have very low usage—right down in the single figures. We expect to see significant improvement when the numbers come out in October.

This has been brought about by a lot of good local partnership working. Only last week, I was with the police and mental health services in Kent, introducing their new strategy, which involves innovative working between the police and local health partners so that they can respond effectively and swiftly to those who are suffering mental ill health. It is also about bringing together the voluntary sector to enhance the support for local people. There are similar partnerships all over the country as part of the crisis care concordat partnership networks, which are driving forward really good improvements.

Most police forces will now have street triage schemes. This means that, although they are quite different in different parts of the country, most police officers will be deployed alongside mental health professionals, so if a call comes into the centre that somebody is experiencing a problem of the type we have heard about, mental health professionals will be sent along with the police officers as they respond. Alongside the reduction in the use of police cells, we have seen a reduction in the use of section 136 powers as these decisions are being made by health professionals to make sure that somebody in such a crisis can get the care that they need immediately. We have seen really good examples in Norfolk and in the west midlands, with dramatic falls in the number of people being sectioned. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this excellent work. In the meantime, I will send him examples that he could perhaps take up with his local police force to make sure that it is drawing on the best possible practice from around the country.

We have increased the availability of liaison and diversion schemes so that those entering the criminal justice system who have mental ill-health or substance misuse issues can be immediately identified and referred into suitable assessment or treatment. These schemes now cover about 75% of the population of England, and we are on track to provide national coverage by 2021. We have provided some £15 million to 88 local projects to increase the provision and capacity of health-based places of safety, focusing on the areas with particularly high use of police cells and limited places of safety. We have announced a further £15 million of funding to continue this vital work.

Just as importantly, we are also bolstering our mental health services. We are investing record levels in mental health and improving access by introducing the first-ever waiting times standards for treatment. We have invested £400 million to improve mental health crisis care in the community and £250 million to establish liaison mental health services in every emergency department by 2020. Since 2010, we have increased spending on mental health to a record £11.6 billion in 2016-17, and a further £1 billion will be invested every year by 2020-21 so that we can deliver the mental health services that people richly deserve.

In addition to this, we are making £1.4 billion available by 2020 for children and young people’s mental health services.