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Funding Settlement for the health service in England

Part of NHS Funding Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden 4:00 pm, 4th February 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, because it is a rare one in so far as there is quite a lot of agreement across the Committee on the substance of it. There appears to be agreement—I await an intervention if anybody disagrees with this—that increasing funding for the NHS is a good thing, that it is good that mental health is a Government priority and that it is very important to establish what parity of esteem means in practical terms.

I would like to take this opportunity to describe what I have seen in my constituency in terms of the importance of mental health and how the increased funding will make a practical difference. One way in which the funding will make a difference is with mental health support teams. There are mental health support teams in 25 areas in the country. Hertfordshire was picked as one of those 25 areas, and we have two teams—one in my constituency, and one just outside it—that effectively piloted a hub-and-spoke model. As Preet Kaur Gill said, it is Children’s Mental Health Week, and the aim of that model is to ensure that young people get better mental health support in and around their school, working in conjunction with the NHS.

As I have seen in my constituency and everywhere I go, when I speak to young people, one of the first things they ask me is, “How can we improve mental health?” Whenever I have spoken to young people, their teachers or local NHS staff, they say this model has the potential, as it is rolled out and developed over the coming months and years, to make a real, fundamental difference. If people are looking for the practical impact of our increased funding for mental health, these teams are one way in which we are already starting to make a difference, not just in my constituency but across the country.

I would like to mention a couple of charities I am involved with that are starting to work in an integrated way with the NHS in improving young people’s mental health. There is a charity called GRIT—a word in politics that we should all remember—or Growing Resilience in Teens. It was set up by a fantastic doctor in Hitchin called Dr Louise Chapman, and it does what it says on the tin: it is about growing resilience in mental health.

As politicians, when it comes to legislation or speaking to each other in the Chamber or outside, we think often about pounds and pence and talk about structures such as hospitals and stuff that can be measured in a very easy way, or at least what we think is an easy way. However, growing resilience is one of the things we need to ensure the NHS does more effectively. Not just in mental health, but particularly in mental health, growing resilience in our young people is an integral part of prevention. The former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt, talked about that in his speech, saying that half of mental health problems are established before a young person is 14.

We need to grow resilience among young people to future-proof each and every one of us, and our communities and our society, against serious mental health problems in the future, at the same time as investing in mental health services such as CAMHS, which has already been mentioned several times in this debate. However, we need to do both: to grow resilience and to improve the institutional frameworks. Again, that is what the money this Bill is providing will go towards.

Another charity is called Tilehouse Counselling, which again is based in Hitchin. I do not mean to say that Hitchin has all the charities in my constituency, but in this area Hitchin is a real regional leader and, indeed, a national leader. Tilehouse Counselling provides counselling services to young people, and young people often find themselves at Tilehouse when CAMHS does not have the capacity.

I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Ms Dorries, who is on the Treasury Bench—she knows this because everybody knows how much she cares about the NHS, how much she knows about it and her own personal experience in it as a professional—to use the money provided by this Bill to increase the workforce and to improve the state of CAMHS so that it can treat more people. Again, that means helping the mental health hubs to work with young people and the education system to improve prevention and, when mental health intervention is needed later on if things have got more serious, making sure that CAMHS has more capacity. Again, the money in this Bill will help to provide that.

Another new organisation in my constituency is called GoVox. It has already been in discussions with NHS Digital, and NHSX, about online ways of improving mental health for young people. Increasing funding matters, and it is always worth stating and restating in the Bill that these are minimum numbers, not maximum numbers. This money is hugely needed, and it should make a big practical difference.

On the pleas from Opposition Members—in relation to new clauses 1, 2 and 9, and a few others, which say that the Government must report on this or must do that—I urge the Minister for Health to commit in his response to showing how he and the Government will improve the existing reporting procedures and mechanisms so that the House can be kept fully informed. My right hon. Friend John Redwood spoke about how Members of Parliament often feel distant, not from information about funding, but from outcomes. Will the Minister explain how the Government could improve that delivery mechanism, as that would allay some concerns across the Committee?

New clause 10 is fairly ridiculous as it is a rehash of the argument that we had at the back end of last year—[Interruption.] It has not been selected. You agree with me, Dame Rosie, so I do not need to talk about how ridiculous it is. [Interruption.] Forgive me. Dame Rosie has no view, and it is important to put that on the record.

In the context of the Bill, we must remember what we are here for. I speak with generosity to Labour Members who I know care deeply about the NHS, but we are not here to try to score points; we are here to improve the state of our NHS. Everybody recognises that this is a good Bill, yet many of the amendments appear designed to create some sort of artificial dividing line between Members on this side of the Committee and that side, regarding who cares the most about the NHS or mental health. I urge all hon. Members to remember that the purpose of this Bill is to increase funding to our NHS and improve our mental health services, and I therefore do not support the amendments.