Mental Health Act Reform - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:22 am on 26 January 2023.

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Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The Government published their draft mental health Bill on 27 June 2022, which contains our intended reforms to the Mental Health Act 1983. I am grateful to the joint pre-legislative scrutiny committee on the Bill for its report, which was published last week, on 19 January. The Government will now review the committee’s recommendations. We will respond in the coming months and introduce a revised Bill when parliamentary time allows.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Chair, Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill, Chair, Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his comments on the Joint Committee’s report. I had the privilege of chairing its inquiry and I am grateful for the contributions of Members of both Houses. The Government must of course spend time considering with care our recommendations, but as a committee we feel strongly that a Bill should be introduced to Parliament as soon as is practicable to bring about the really important reforms to the mental health system that people so dearly deserve. Will my noble friend give an assurance that the Government will introduce a formal Bill to Parliament in the current Session?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

First, I thank my noble friend and all noble Lords who took part in the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. I think all noble Lords agree that what we are trying to do with the mental health Bill is a very good thing. We would like to bring it forward as soon as we can. From my side, I know that we are ready to go, but we are working with the parliamentary authorities to make sure that we can get the legislative time. We want to do it as soon as possible.

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour

My Lords, due to the current mental health legislation, autistic people are being detained in hospitals not because they have a separate mental health issue but because they are autistic. Autism is not a mental health condition, but more than 2,000 autistic people are currently locked up. This is a stain on Britain’s reputation for defending human rights and a challenge for us to define the liberty and freedom of some of our most vulnerable citizens. So will the Minister ask his noble friend sitting on the Bench with him, the Government Chief Whip, for a debate in government time on this matter, so that the voices of some of these people, some of whom have been locked up for decades, can at last be heard?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I have some personal experience in this space, so I understand exactly what the noble Lord is saying. I think we all agree on its importance. We have a commitment to decrease the number of in-patients with learning disabilities and autism by 50%. It is something that every ICB must have a lead on, so that they can really tackle it, and I personally would be happy to meet the people the noble Lord mentioned to understand further.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative

My Lords, this process began four years ago, with the then Prime Minister announcing the initial reason for the review, which was the disproportionate way that the Mental Health Act is applied to many black and minority ethnic communities. Beyond the review and the White Paper, the Joint Committee recommends the abolition of community treatment orders, which are disproportionately applied: if you are black you are 11 times more likely to be under a community treatment order. Most of the recommendations of the Wessely review were to be enacted by changes within NHS England. Can my noble friend the Minister assure us that he will hold its feet to the fire to change the culture, practices and training of many of our mental health professionals, because those communities are being disproportionately affected by the way the Act operates?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Yes, I too saw the statistics on the number of black people who are detained. Clearly that is not right and is something that we need to get on top of. I know that the NHS has set up a patient and carer race equality framework to try to tackle this, but clearly we need to act on it. Again, it is the responsibility of every ICB to ensure to tackle this as well.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, a key reason why people with learning disabilities and autism are wrongly detained under the Mental Health Act is that mental health professionals are not trained to recognise autism and learning disabilities. Without waiting for legal reform, will the Government work with the professional bodies now to train and retrain psychiatrists and psychologists in learning disabilities and autism so that we can stop the scandal of these people being locked away wrongly for years and years?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Yes, and understanding starts in schools. Again, I am very aware of that, and of the fact that training in schools is vital. We have increased the proportion of schools with trained mental health assessors from 25% last year; it will shortly be about 35%. The target is 50% next year. It is not 100%—we need to do more—but it is rapid progress.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords), Chair, Services Committee, Chair, Services Committee

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I was a member of the scrutiny Joint Committee. I should say in parentheses that I entirely support the legislation being brought forward, but one of the things that came through very strongly from all the evidence we took was quite serious anxiety about resourcing for the kinds of reforms that are required. That is about not just money but, to go to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, the recruitment of appropriate people to deliver the services that are needed, and the retention and training of those people. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government will review the resource allocation for the proposed changes to the Mental Health Act, to ensure that these workforce issues are addressed?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The noble Baroness is correct; these things do need resources. We have committed to £2.3 billion of extra spending next year and an increase of 27,000 in the number of mental health nurses; I am glad to say we are well on the way, with a 7,000 increase over the last year. This all comes back to workforce planning—I am sure I will be asked that question later. And, yes, we will publish our plan soon.

Photo of Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, can the Minister comment on why it is 50 years since we have had a revision, and say whether in fact the Government are delaying this legislation because of the resources that will be required, as has just been referred to?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

No, I hope that all noble Lords will see that there is no sense of delay on this side—and we are not waiting for the legislation to introduce a lot of these measures. It is very important, and we are ready to push on as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Labour

My Lords, declaring my interests in the register, particularly as a trustee of the Centre for Mental Health and a member of the Joint Committee, perhaps I might press the Minister on one of our key recommendations: to establish a statutory mental health commissioner to oversee the implementation of the draft Bill, which we fully support, and to have a laser focus to ensure consistency across the country in the services required, underpinned by investment in community services. Unless those are forthcoming in a timely way, the Bill’s intentions will be undermined. Will the Minister confirm today that he will accept the recommendation for a mental health commissioner?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I hope noble Lords accept that the report came out only last week and we need a little time to consider it. What I can say is that we are all focused laser-like on making sure that change is happening in this space. If the best way to do that is by appointing a mental health commissioner, that will have my support. At the same time, I am very aware that ICBs are responsible for this, and I want to give them the space to make sure they can properly manage mental health and other health services in their area.

Photo of Lord Selkirk of Douglas Lord Selkirk of Douglas Conservative

Some years ago I visited a health centre with a lot of autistic patients who were quite young. One of them came up to me and said, “What is your favourite film?” I replied immediately, “Chariots of Fire”—whereupon he took me through every detail of “Chariots of Fire”, which revealed that in one respect he had a problem but in other respects he had great ability. Does the Minister accept that there is much to be hoped for in young people who have this difficulty?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I agree 100%. As I say, I have some personal experience. In many ways, these children or young people have incredible skills and are gifted in many directions, and the economy we live in, with IT and everything, gives more and more opportunity for these people to thrive.

Photo of Baroness Merron Baroness Merron Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I congratulate the Joint Committee on its excellent work and refer to a report in the Times yesterday that the Government have written to universities to ask them to limit the number of medical school places they offer or risk fines. Can the Minister shed any light on what I regard as a baffling move? Can he explain to the House how the Government will address the concerns of the Joint Committee about getting the right workforce in place if they are planning to reduce the number of doctors in training?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Again, I agree that workforce is key to this. I am not aware of the report; I will look it up. I am somewhat surprised, because I know that we all accept that we need to invest in this space to recruit doctors, nurses and mental health professionals.