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Funding Settlement for the health service in England

Part of NHS Funding Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 4:15 pm, 4th February 2020

I wish to speak to new clause 2, which is tabled in my name and those of my Liberal Democrat colleagues. As you know, Dame Rosie, I intended to push the new clause to a vote, but I understand that time pressures will not allow me to do so. I am disappointed by that, but I will be pressing the Government on this issue time and again. I want them to make it a high priority and to put it at the forefront of their policy making and commitments to the mental health of children and young people.

It is a pleasure to hear such a unified voice across the Committee about the importance of mental health, and there is a clear commitment to parity of esteem and to ensuring that mental health across the board gets the funding it deserves. I am therefore encouraged by the amendments, many of which I and my colleagues will support.

New clause 2 focuses specifically on the crisis—I used that word advisedly—in the provision of child and adolescent mental health services. It places a spotlight on the chronic underfunding of CAMHS, and seeks to encourage the Government and NHS England to deliver on their promises and improve transparency and accountability on those priorities.

Before I arrived in this place, I was aware of this significant and pressing issue. Less than two months since my election, however, I am utterly horrified by the cases of children and young people in crisis that cross my desk on a weekly basis—or more often—either through my surgery, my inbox, or anecdotally when speaking to acquaintances and contacts in my constituency and well beyond. New clause 2 seeks to make the Government and NHS England more accountable for the funding that they provide annually to CAMHS. That is very much in the spirit of the Bill. The Government are seeking to codify their promised expenditure on the NHS, and the new clause seeks simply to do the same thing in this important area, given that a number of welcome commitments have been made about CAMHS spending.

There are concerns that that funding is not reaching the frontline. Indeed, the evidence is clear. Just last week a report by the Children’s Commissioner stated that many CCGs are spending less than 1% of their mental health budget on children and young people. In 2017, the CQC revealed that CCGs have prioritised adult mental health over CAMHS because of the need to ration services. Other amendments seek to talk about mental health more broadly, but that is the reason why we need a particular spotlight on children and young people’s services.

The phrasing of new clause 2 seeks to ensure accountability against the ambitions of the long-term plan. Subsection (2) would help to demonstrate whether the promises on the growth of CAMHS spending outstripping mental health spending, and NHS spending across the board, are kept.

Subsection (3) shines a spotlight on regional variability. The Children’s Commissioner’s report last week talked about the enormous postcode lottery of spending on services. The numbers cited were staggering. In terms of low-level services, they ranged from 72p in some areas to £172 per child. On specialist services, they ranged from £14 to £191. We all expect some level of variation, but I am sure the Government would agree that that level of variation is utterly unacceptable. It needs to be tracked very publicly, so that spending and services can be improved to meet need.

Why is that so critical? As has been stated by various Members, half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14. We know that 1.25 million children and young people had a mental health disorder in 2017. We have heard that since 2010 there has been an increase of 330% in admissions to A&E of children and young people diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. We know that only one in four children and young people is being seen by a specialist when they need to.

It is very easy to cite statistics, but behind them are individuals: children and young people and their stories. The stories I have heard are of teenagers self-harming, teenagers who are suicidal, teenagers who are a danger to themselves and their families, and young people who are excluded from school or are taking themselves out of school because of their mental health conditions. One piece of correspondence I received from a parent talked about her 17-year-old being referred for specialist treatment last November. He might be assessed, if he is lucky, in March and he will not get treatment for four to six months after that. That cannot be right. This child has at times been suicidal. I have also had a case of a 10-year-old with tier 3 needs waiting a similar amount of time for the initial choice assessment, who will be waiting a similar amount of time again for treatment.

We have had many plans, many vision documents and many strategies setting out wonderful lofty ambitions for the NHS. As I said, the long-term plan has some very laudable commitments on CAMHS. The Bill seeks to put into law what the Government promise on NHS spending. New clause 3 simply seeks to put into law the Government’s promises on spending on children and young people’s mental health disorders. I cannot press new clause 3 to a Division, but I very much hope that the Government will accept the spirit of my new clause and look to see what measures they can put in place to improve transparency and accountability. We owe it to those children and young people, because this really is a crisis and they need us to step up to the plate.

I will end my remarks with a quote from the mother of the 17-year-old I referred to earlier, because she puts it far better than I could:

“All these young people are our future and if we do not help them now, we are looking at a bleak future as these young people will end up being isolated from society, lack skills for work and relationships, find employment hard, perhaps even get into crime and ultimately will end up not having fulfilled lives and maybe end up being yet another statistic. We have not got this right and it is not just about the budgets or party politics;
we need all of you to work together on this and treat this as an emergency.”