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Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:11 am on 6th July 2018.

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Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle 10:11 am, 6th July 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Luciana Berger. I too add my congratulations to Mr Reed on introducing this Bill and on his tireless efforts to guide this important piece of legislation through the House. I was here last month, when this Bill was last discussed, but unfortunately I did not get an opportunity to contribute, so I am very pleased to be able to speak in support of it today.

This is a sensible Bill. It follows recent announcements by the Prime Minister and Ministers addressing mental health, and feeds into current initiatives on how best to improve current systems of support for people who face mental health problems. The figures on mental health are striking: every week, one in six adults suffers from some sort of mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression and suicide. Even more alarmingly, one in five has considered taking their own life at some point.

I am encouraged to see that the Government are taking the issue of mental health so seriously and as seriously as physical health. In my view, parity of esteem means far more than simply saying we value a person’s mental wellbeing. It must mean tackling mental health issues with the same energy and priority that we tackle physical illness. It is about changing the experience for people who require help with mental health problems. In addition, we must aim to put the funding and training for mental health services on a par with those for physical health services.

Crucially, we must end what appears to be the criminalisation of mental health conditions. The tragic case of Olaseni Lewis highlighted for many how quickly the police can become involved in mental health situations in a way that they perhaps do not in physical heath cases. Indeed, the Metropolitan police force received a phone call relating to mental health every five minutes last year, an escalating level of demand which they have said could be caused by NHS services struggling to cope. The number of calls handled by the Metropolitan police in which someone was concerned a mental health hit a record 115,000 in the past year—on average 315 a day, or about 13 an hour.

In some cases, ill people struggling to find help have even committed crimes to obtain treatment, believing that that was the best way to get access to mental health services. The Met also expects to use powers to detain under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 more often. Data from health partners in my own area of Greater Manchester indicate that around 1,000 people each year are detained under section 136.

However, some really good initiatives are being rolled out. I wish to highlight an initiative from my own force in Greater Manchester. It has collaborated with Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust to provide a training programme for staff that improves the understanding of mental health. For the past 12 months, staff and officers at Greater Manchester police have received comprehensive mental health training, delivered by mental health professionals. The scheme was originally designed for staff in the custody offices where people are detained, but I am delighted to report that it has proved so successful that it has now been incorporated in the training requirements for response officers, police community support officers and special constables. The eventual aim is that all workers complete the sessions.

The concept of parity of esteem, and indeed the wider issue of highlighting the importance of mental health, is especially vital, as we know, for young people. Some 75% of all chronic mental health problems start before the age of 18, and yet currently only a quarter of children and teenagers under 15 with mental health problems get the help they need from public services. Since January 2013, there have been 17 deaths of patients under the care of young people’s mental health services. I know that the Government regard patient safety as a key priority, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State published national guidance on learning from deaths last year to improve the way that the NHS investigates and learns from in-patient deaths and to prevent future tragedies. I also welcome the £25 million of investment to support mental health patients so that we can achieve what we want, which is a zero suicide ambition.

I wish to speak to clause 12, which covers police-worn body cameras. That is already becoming standard practice in Greater Manchester. GMP has the largest force of officers outside London using body cameras, with more than 3,000 staff equipped with video recording devices. The Crown Prosecution Service has endorsed the equipment as a critical piece of technology not only in reducing violence, but—and this is key for this debate—in improving transparency. As the evidence suggests, there is merit in applying this measure across England and Wales. Body cameras have dramatically reduced the number of complaints made against police officers. During a trial period of their use, complaints dropped by 93%. It is because of that record that I believe body cameras will be an effective tool not only in assisting on-duty hospital staff, but in instilling those important patient safeguards.

There are good measures in the Bill which, coupled with the duties of the “responsible person”, will make this a very important piece of legislation. I am very pleased to support it and wish it well on its passage through this House.