Mental Health of Children and Young Adults - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:46 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 1:46 pm, 16th May 2019

I apologise—perhaps the noble Earl is sitting low in his seat.

They are absolutely right that prevention and early intervention are crucial. We prioritised improving perinatal mental health when I was previously the Mental Health Minister for exactly that reason. The noble Earl put it so eloquently: it is vital for newborns to form that early attachment with their mother and father. We must also consider the role played by the wider family, as those on our own Benches have put it. From 2020-21, we have put in place increased access to perinatal mental health services in all areas for at least 30,000 women, backed by £365 million in funding, as part of the five-year forward view for mental health. The long-term plan will also go further, with a commitment to increase evidence-based care for women with severe perinatal mental health difficulties and a personality disorder diagnosis, to benefit an initial 24,000 women per year by 2020-21. That is reassuring, but we also need to ensure that it carries on beyond the early years and into the school years—a point made by a number of your Lordships.

I recognise the impatience surrounding the Green Paper, but I would like to clarify a few points. The commitment within the Green Paper is to have a pilot, for 25 schools in the first instance, but it is then to incentivise every school and college to identify and train a designated senior lead for mental health to create new mental health support teams in and near schools and colleges. We are starting by piloting so that we can work out what the best design is and then move it across to all schools. The idea is not to have variability but to drive it through the whole system. While I recognise the frustration with rolling out these proposals in a phased way, it is a very ambitious commitment. We need to recruit and retain a workforce numbering in the thousands for the mental health support teams alone. We cannot do that overnight, given that there are over 20,000 schools and colleges. To roll out a fifth to a quarter of these by 2022-23 is already a challenging target. We must ensure that we train that workforce in an appropriate way to meet the challenges they will face.

I will also respond to the eloquent words of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the moving experience which she spoke of. She is right that I do not speak for the Department for Education, but the thing about being at the Dispatch Box is that I can say whatever I like; once I am up here, they cannot pull me down. As she said, I speak as a former music graduate of Somerville, and I believe strongly in the importance of the arts, and in particular music, for education and mental health. I back her entirely on its importance for social prescribing as well. I will advocate strongly for that in this role. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is extremely important that young people’s experience should be safe, inspiring and nurturing. We should all be pushing in our roles for more joy within our society.

I know that I will run out of time quite quickly, so I will move on. I would like to talk a little about the work we have been delivering for university students. This key aspect has arisen on a number of occasions, and I know that the mental health of young people in universities is vital. Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that NHS England and Universities UK are working together on a programme to support and improve mental health at universities through Universities UK’s StepChange programme, which calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and to take a whole-institution approach to mental health. As part of this programme, the Government are actively backing the introduction of a sector-led university mental health charter, which will drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and well-being.

NHS England is also working closely with Universities UK through its mental health in higher education programme to improve welfare services and access to mental health services for the student population, including focusing on suicide reduction while improving access to psychological therapies. There is funding attached to this and I am happy to meet with the noble Baroness if she would like to discuss that further, as it is a vital part of the picture.

I will move on to the questions raised regarding stigma and social media, which are crucial if we are to have a preventive approach to the situation we find ourselves in. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, spoke incisively on this issue. We are committed to eliminating the stigma around mental health and are providing £20 million in funding to the Time to Change national anti-stigma campaign, which has been hugely successful. As the noble Baroness rightly said, it involved high-profile individuals who cut through the noise that often comes at young people every day. The campaign aims to improve social attitudes towards mental health, including promoting the importance of well-being in all areas.

However, we should also think about one area that did not get aired within the debate, and that is those who face double stigma when they have a chronic condition. As I think was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, there are those have learning disabilities and mental ill-health. It is challenging for them to navigate their way through the system. Public Health England is delivering a £15 million national health campaign called Every Mind Matters, with the aim to equip 1 million people to be better informed to look after their own mental health. This will be of huge benefit going forward.

It is important that we do not imply, in this place, that everybody who suffers from mental ill-health will end up in the criminal justice system. I do not believe that is the case.

I also point out that this Government have been committed to addressing the agenda of social media and the harms it can produce, even though it is beneficial in other areas when it is used as an effective tool. That is why the Secretary of State has not only taken this on as a personal commitment in the round tables he has held with internet companies, but we are also bringing forward the online harms White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, was right when he said that we have to make sure this has teeth. That is why there are commitments to bring forward a new regulator under it and why the CMO brought forward recommendations on screen time.

None of this is relevant if we do not have the workforce and funding that we need. I am pleased that NHS funding for young people has increased. I was concerned to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and his comments about reduced funding. The information I have is that children’s mental health funding is increasing. It has gone up from £516 million in 2015-16 to £687.2 million in 2017-18. Planned spend next year is £727.3 million, an increase of 5.8% compared to the previous year. This will be monitored with the investment standard and dashboard. I am happy to follow this up with the noble Lord, but I believe that NHS funding for mental health is increasing and at a faster rate than overall NHS funding. We are tracking this and ensuring that local CCGs stick to that commitment. This transformative investment will ensure that more young people receive the mental health support they need.

I finally turn to the questions about suicide prevention, which were movingly spoken about by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and others. The noble Lord is right that we have an excellent suicide prevention strategy. It must be based on accurate data. It is challenging to ensure we have that data, but I have a great deal of confidence in Public Health England working with local authorities to ensure we raise the standards of that work. Understanding the reasons for suicide is complex. Suicides among children are relatively rare, but each is an appalling tragedy, so we must work with every ounce of our abilities to move forward and make that better.

I am proud that we recently increased the amount of research funding for mental health, by a record amount, to £74.8 million. This will play an important role in helping us understand the sources of all forms of mental ill-health, including those that drive individuals to suicide.

While I am sure that noble Lords feel there are other areas I could have covered, and would like answers to other aspects, I hope that, by pointing out the areas of rising investment today and that we are improving access and waiting times, I have communicated to you that the Government are genuinely working across all departments to ensure that we see this as a priority agenda. I have demonstrated that we understand that we still face significant challenges. While we are impatient for faster improvement, there can be no question of our commitment to a brighter, healthier and more joyful future for our children and young people.

I was deeply moved to hear the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, his testimony of his own experience some years ago and how different he feels things are today. Each of us still feels frustrated by how far we still have to come and how many things we still have to deliver to give our children the services that they deserve. I cannot think of a better way to close than by repeating some of the comments that he gave in his speech. We are only as good as the way we treat the weakest among us. There is a long way to go, but we are now on the road. If we can make as much progress in the next 20 years as we have in the last 20 years, we can give young people the stigma-free lives that they deserve.