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My Lords, I start by remarking on what very strange times we live in and the frankly rather surreal context to the debate. I was particularly struck yesterday by the remark of my noble friend Lord Beith, who I am delighted is in his place next to me, who called this the “fantasy gracious Speech”—and that was before the vote to reject the timetable for the withdrawal agreement Bill and the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that it will now be “paused”.
With that preamble aside, I will start with one aspect of the gracious Speech that I welcome: the commitment to reform the Mental Health Act to,
“improve respect for, and care of, those receiving treatment”.
That is based on the independent review of the Mental Health Act, chaired by Sir Simon Wessely, which reported in December 2018 with 154 recommendations aimed at improving and updating the Mental Health Act 1983. That is critical, given the growing number of detentions, of which we know that there was a 40% increase over a 10-year period, and grave concerns about the disproportionate numbers of people from black and minority ethnic communities being detained.
Unless my hearing failed me, at the start of the debate I was pleased to hear the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s intention to publish the White Paper outlining their response to the independent review by the end of the year. I welcome that, but is the Minister able to say anything more about the timetable for bringing forward a new mental health Bill and whether the Government will be able to accept the Wessely review’s recommendations in their entirety? We should not lose sight of the fact that the best way to reduce the need to detain patients under the Act is to prevent their health deteriorating and reaching a mental health crisis in the first place. That is best done through expanding and improving mental health services.
So it is to be hoped that delivering the improvements contained in the NHS long-term plan will bring real benefits to people with mental illness. However, as we have heard before this afternoon, these all rest on having enough staff with the right skills to deliver care to patients—so could the Minister also say when the Government will publish their legislative proposals to implement the long-term plan? While I welcome plans for a new piece of mental health legislation, as I have said, it is also important that the forthcoming White Paper considers the non-legislative steps needed to improve patient care.
The noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, made the really important point that the review of the Mental Health Act found that mental health facilities where patients are admitted are often some of the most out of date. Indeed, they were described as the “worst estate” in the NHS, at times with more in common with prisons than hospitals. Badly designed, dilapidated buildings and poor facilities contribute to a sense of containment and make it difficult for patients to effectively engage in therapeutic activities. This capital investment to improve the in-patient physical environment, which was recommended by the review and supported by the long-term plan, is critical, so could the Minister set out what action is being taken to fund these infrastructure improvements?
Ensuring that patients are not detained any more than is absolutely necessary—something I am sure we would all agree with—requires expanding mental health services and having the medical workforce to deliver and sustain the commitments in the long-term plan. That will require the Government both to sort out the short-term recruitment and retention crisis in the mental health workforce and to prepare for the longer term by doubling the number of medical school places by 2029, as was discussed in Questions yesterday.
One group who would benefit from proposals for greater integration of mental and physical healthcare are those who have mental illness and alcohol and substance abuse issues. They are often seen by various services but do not get the holistic care that they need. I think that we all know that patients being seen for mental health conditions often do not get the physical healthcare they need and vice versa, with those with physical health conditions often having their mental health needs ignored. I was therefore interested in the proposals put forward by NHS England and NHS Improvement for an NHS integrated care Bill to assist the delivery of the NHS long-term plan and allow services to work together more easily. Can the Minister say what is happening in this area?
A common misunderstanding is that the Mental Health Act applies only to adults rather than to young people, but we should note that, in total, almost 3,500 children and young people were admitted to inpatient mental health hospitals in 2017-18, with more than 1,000 formally detained under the Mental Health Act and more than two-thirds of those children aged 16 and 17. Therefore, as the review makes clear, detention should only ever be a last resort. Consequently, it is vital that reforms to the Mental Health Act are accompanied by greater investment in early intervention for children and young people, so that more young people receive support in their communities before they reach crisis point. Again, I would be grateful for anything that the Minister might be able to say, either now or later, about the specific steps being taken by the Government to make early support a real priority.