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Funding Settlement for the health service in England

Part of NHS Funding Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 4:30 pm, 4th February 2020

I am very grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Amendment 2 concerns spending on mental health services and the Secretary of State’s plans to achieve parity of esteem. Mental illness is often not viewed as a risk to human life, but it is exactly that. In 2018, according to the Samaritans, 6,507 deaths in the United Kingdom were registered as suicides—an increase of 10.9% on the previous year. That means that nearly 7,000 people did not believe that there was help, or another way out of what they were going through.

It can be hard for adults to talk about the feelings that come from being mentally unwell. The words are in their vocabulary, and it may be simple enough to string them together into a sentence, but it is incredibly difficult to say them out loud. I can only imagine how hard it must be for children to express how they are feeling when something is not right. Perhaps they do say the words that are in their heads, but they are not taken seriously. It is a scandal that there are suicidal children as young as 12 who are having to wait more than two weeks for a mental health bed. By not viewing mental illness as life-threatening, we are letting generations down.

There is much debate about what causes mental illness and what is the best form of treatment, but it can take several visits to a GP for people to be taken seriously about not being OK—although many GPs, of course, respond immediately. When parents are fighting for their unwell children to be taken seriously and receive the urgent care and treatment they need, it is horrifying for that to be delayed.

At this stage I should pay tribute to my former colleague Paul Williams, who was the Member of Parliament for Stockton South. He is a GP, and as a member of the Health Committee he spoke extensively about health matters, but locally he took on the child and adolescent mental health services. He knew, as I did because we shared the same area, that it was taking well over two years for young people to be seen by CAMHS. As a direct result of his work, that ended, up to a point, because some children who were due to be seen quickly were actually seen when they should have been. However, those long waits still exist in our area. As we heard earlier from Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, sometimes children are just not taken seriously.

It is right for the Secretary of State to answer to the House on exactly what the Department is doing, because this is a matter of life and death. Not only the House but the country needs assurance and answers. The state of mental health services will only get worse unless we take action to deliver what is required. The additional money is more than welcome, but I see the amendment as the first, necessary step to provide the funds that are so desperately needed. Equally important is the ability to monitor what those funds are being spent on, and how.

There are many other services on which people depend heavily, including some that we may take for granted, such as smoking cessation services. There is widespread concern about existing funding for services to help people stop smoking. Nearly a third of local authorities no longer provide specialist “stop smoking” services. Stopping smoking is not just a matter of nicotine patches or vaping; people need behavioural support as well, particularly pregnant women, children, and people who are already unwell. One ward in my constituency has some of the highest incidences of smoking in families—whole families smoking—but we also have some of the highest incidences of smoking during pregnancy, and that is not good for the unborn child.

We cannot afford to lose the progress that we have made. We have made tremendous progress over the years, but we need local services that are effective and properly funded. The Government also need to return to funding the multi-media approach to smoking cessation services. I was particularly pleased to learn last week that research has shown that the ban on smoking in cars when a child is present has produced a 75% drop in children being exposed to cigarette smoke in a car. I led on that issue during my first few years as an MP, through private Members’ Bills and a ten-minute rule Bill. The Bills were unsuccessful, but I was delighted when the Government adopted my clause a few years later. We still need to be ambitious and bold about helping people to quit smoking, but services need the resources. I hope the Minister will commit to ensuring that such services are provided, whether for mental health or for smoking cessation, and that they are fully funded so that we can continue to make real progress in that area.

Finally, I shall turn to the matter of capital. The Minister has already heard me talk about the needs in my own constituency. In one ward—the same one I referred to earlier: the Town Centre ward in Stockton—men live 14 years less than those in the Prime Minister’s constituency. His constituency is getting a new hospital, but there are no plans yet for us. However, I have good news for the Minister, because the plan for our hospital is still sitting there. I met the chief executive of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust just two weeks ago, and she told me that they were ready to dust off the plans again and see how we could provide a hospital. At the time we asked for £100 million from the Government as a guarantor in order to make the project work. The numbers do work, and the health inequalities need to be addressed.

We need to be able to attract the best doctors and clinicians that we can to address the problems in our society. The heart problems are higher on average than anywhere else in the country. We have smoking problems, as I have mentioned, with their related lung and respiratory problems. We also have the legacy of our heavy industry on Teesside, where men who have now retired are in extremely ill health but sometimes cannot get the support they need because we do not have the experts locally to provide it.

In my final sentences, I appeal to the Minister to meet me and the trust members so that we can sit down and talk about this project.