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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 Suella Braverman Suella Braverman Conservative, Fareham 4:30 pm, 4th February 2020

I rise to speak in favour of the clauses in the Bill and against the amendments. I do not think that the latter add anything material, and they ignore the vast improvements in mental health under this Government in recent years. One in four adults will experience mental health illness in their lifetime, and that is obviously a high incidence of mental health illness. It shows the growing concern around this issue as well as a growing awareness, and, I have to add, a growing commitment by today’s Government, but we cannot ignore the fact that there are many challenges in the system and many areas for improvement.

I want to talk briefly about the Government’s record. I fully support their commitment to providing funding for mental health services, which will mean that those services’ funding will increase faster than in other areas of the NHS. I hope that much of that funding will go towards the frontline in teaching and education. Perhaps the Minister will address this in his closing remarks.

I meet many education professionals in Fareham who report an increase in the incidence of mental illness among their young people and finding the cost of providing counselling and support an additional burden on their budgets.

It is important to note that by 2023-24, under the proposals in the Bill, at least an additional 345,000 children and young people under 25 will be able to access support via NHS-funded mental health services. That is a welcome aim, and I am confident that we will meet that target under this landmark funding commitment. That progress is hugely welcome, and I am glad that the Government have made children and young people’s mental health a top priority within the NHS, which is halfway through a major programme to improve access to specialist services, supported by £1.4 billion of funding. I congratulate the Front-Bench team and the Government on that work.

I want to talk about some of the incidents that I have come across in Fareham over the past few months. Tragically, several young people took their own lives last year. As I said earlier, I recently met educational professionals who are increasingly worried about how long it is taking young people to access mental health support, counselling or other support through CAMHS. Children or young people are presenting with problems such as anxiety, low-level depression or self-harm, but they are not necessarily meeting the eligibility criteria required by CAMHS, so they are not being accepted for treatment by the services on offer. That leaves them to fall into a treatment gap, which is a problem in Fareham and around the country. Young people are presenting with complex needs that do not necessarily fit into the diagnostic box, and I hope that measures are in place to provide more accessible lower-level care and treatment to meet that demand.

The other issue that young people, their families and teachers, and medical professionals in Fareham are reporting to me is the time it takes to get an initial counselling or therapy session through CAMHS. Young people sometimes have to wait months before an initial meeting, which can have a devastating effect on someone who might be fragile or facing challenges. They may end up dropping out of school, for example, but they may have stayed in school had there been some intervention, or they may increase their level of self-harm or become suicidal within that timeframe. It is tragic that systemic challenges mean that we are unable to reach maybe the easier-to-treat cases in an appropriate timescale. It is incumbent upon me to highlight the challenges we are facing in Fareham, but I am glad that this funding and this commitment to mental health, particularly children and young people’s mental health, will go towards improving some of those systemic problems, such as resources and waiting times.

Turning to some good news in Fareham and the progress being made to address the treatment gap, I am pleased to welcome a new community support project in Fareham and Gosport that has been set up to supplement the existing health service. It is run by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and the Princess Royal Trust For Carers, and a consultation is under way to assess how it can focus more on day-to-day mental health challenges and provide lower-level support for people who do not necessarily fulfil the eligibility criteria that I set out. That might be someone who has lost a job or is facing some financial difficulty, and this support can help them to get through a troubled time and prevent them from deteriorating.

The project will support people on a one-to-one basis and will serve to ease pressure on other services. It aims to nip mental health problems in the bud before they get worse, with a focus on prevention and on flexibility. I really welcome the initiative and hope that if it is successful in Fareham and Gosport it will be rolled out further afield in Hampshire.

I also want to talk about the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services in Fareham. I want to update the House on the good progress that Southern Health has been making. I have been campaigning for many years—in fact, it was one of the first issues that hit my in-tray when I was first elected in 2015—about the systemic and structural problems endemic in the health trust, which was, frankly, failing its patients back in 2014 and 2015. Its leadership has been overhauled and it has had huge interventions from NHS Improvement, as well as a lot of monitoring from the various regulatory bodies in relation to its history of treatment of people with serious mental health problems or with disabilities, including avoidable deaths. Several inquests have concluded that Southern Health did bear blame for those deaths.

I am very glad to report that last week the CQC reported that Southern Health trust should be rated as good, and that is a vast improvement on previous years. It is a vote of confidence in the leadership team, and it is a real step forward in providing confidence to the thousands of people who work for Southern Health, and of course, above all, those patients who are under its care. In terms of leadership, safety, caring responsiveness and the extent to which it is patient-centred, Southern Health was rated as good. I have to say, however, that some areas still require improvement—for example, the effectiveness of services.

I have worked with many families whose young relatives have taken their own lives under the care of Southern Health, and I know they have been significantly involved with helping to get improvements in Southern Health. I know that they will be pleased by last week’s CQC rating, and I want to congratulate those families on all their input and their work on this issue. I also congratulate the leadership team at Southern Health.

Lastly, I want to talk briefly about Fareham Community Hospital in Fareham, which has been my pet project. It is a wonderful facility in the heart of our community, but it is sadly under-used. Last year I conducted a wide-ranging consultation with hundreds of local residents and many stakeholders, and I authored a document on the conclusions: the Minister is welcome to read a copy, maybe tonight or tomorrow, if he would be interested. It sets out a plan, based on the results of that consultation, for how we can better use Fareham Community Hospital. One of our recommendations is that it would be a brilliant location for a mental health hub in our community. We have a great facility, which is well located and in good condition, but in the light of the demands and challenges in the local area with young people’s mental health there is a great opportunity here for more funding and more co-ordination so that Fareham Community Hospital can be better harnessed, so that our young people, and also other people who need mental health support, can use the facility and capitalise on it in the most effective way. I hope that bosses at the CCG and those who make the decisions will that bear in mind.

I applaud the Government for their commitment to the funding in the Bill, and I oppose all the amendments.