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NHS: Healthcare Data - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:24 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop 12:24 pm, 6th September 2018

My Lords, I too express appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for securing a debate on a subject so full of possibilities for enriching our knowledge and improving the lives of fellow citizens. In England alone the National Health Service deals with more than 1 million patients every 36 hours. The potential use of data is enormous.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle, who takes a special interest in health matters, is particularly sorry not to be able to participate in this debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on the quality of his maiden speech. I was, furthermore, particularly grateful for the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, who spoke from his great expertise in this field. My focus is on mental healthcare data, which was recently highlighted in the Church of England’s toolkit on minority ethnic mental health issues, launched at our General Synod in July.

We know from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, conducted every seven years, that one adult in six has a common mental disorder. By gender this breaks down to one woman in five and one man in eight, with the rate for women increasing since 2000 and the rate for men largely static. It is important to know why this is the case. Most mental disorders are more common among those living alone, in poor physical health or unemployed. One should avoid simple remedies, but esteem, living in a community, relational contact, activity and purpose seem to correlate with better mental health.

It is also important to note that there are wider demographic inequalities in who receives treatment for common mental disorders. According to the 2014 survey, after controlling for need, people who were white British, female or in mid-life, which in this instance means 35 to 54—rather younger than the average of fellow Peers—were more likely to receive treatment. Black ethnic groups had particularly low treatment rates. That is a serious matter. Analysing the data by socioeconomic variables demonstrates fewer inequalities in treatment, although people in low-income households were more likely to request a particular treatment but not to receive it.

I appreciate that even a debate as lengthy and as valuable as this is not going to solve systemic issues. It is clear, however, that there are discrepancies in how people are served. In a very different arena from this one—criminal justice—the Lammy report, addressing disproportionality, proposed a standing order of “explain or change”: if the disproportionality cannot be justified, action must be taken to remedy it. In this instance it would be good to know what action will address the failure to treat a category of citizens on the basis of ethnicity.

One of the outworkings of the gospel is the creation of a new society where distinctions do not matter. That is no easy thing, since so much of our security, identity and understanding is based on distinction and difference. Ultimately, however, this is not healthy, and in an area of pathology and treatment where provision is as sadly lacking as in mental health, to make less treatment available where the key variable is ethnicity is not a justifiable way to ration the system.

I have said before, in respect of public service reform, that a failure to include a clear relational element is a great deficit in any programme. I trust that in the wake of the Windrush scandal we may yet be learning that lesson.