NHS Tayside (Mental Health Services)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Bill Bowman Bill Bowman Conservative

I suspect that my remarks will duplicate what others have said, but today’s subject is such that I do not think that apologies for that are necessary.

Suicide is preventable.

Last week, we heard Richard Leonard highlight the case of David Ramsay, who took his own life after being turned away from the Carseview centre—a tragic case that speaks to a wider problem in Dundee and Tayside. The campaign group lost souls of Dundee has identified at least 10 such cases that could have been prevented if better care had been available at Carseview. Just one week on from Mr Ramsay’s case being highlighted, we now have an NHS Tayside inquiry moving forward, for which the health secretary has signalled her support. I am pleased to see that swift response, and I welcome any move to provide answers and prevent further deaths.

Those answers must now be sought and lessons learned, but I note the words of Gillian Murray, who is part of the lost souls group and David Ramsay’s niece, concerning the inquiry. She said:

“I’m pleased at this announcement but it is not the end—this is just the first step.”

I could not agree more, because research shows that 70 per cent of people who take their own lives do so within a year of having contact with healthcare services. Thus, the proposal to look at Carseview alone was never sufficient to provide the answers that are needed. We must ensure that the inquiry covers all mental health needs, resources and provision at NHS Tayside.

I was reminded of the importance of that yesterday, when I was contacted by a constituent outwith Tayside, who raised some very serious concerns about mental health care at NHS Grampian. It was a timely reminder that failings in mental health care are not confined to a particular treatment facility or, for that matter, a particular health board. For NHS Tayside in particular, though, a wide-ranging inquiry is vital because it can offer more reassurance to patients and their families that the issue is being taken seriously.

Let us be clear about how serious an issue it is. Around two people die by suicide in Scotland every day. As we have heard, in Dundee alone, suicide deaths rose by 61 per cent recently. Almost unbelievably, almost two out of every three Scots have some experience of suicide—a worrying statement to which I am sure the ministers will pay heed. It also reflects local concern that, in Tayside, there is a lack of focus on improving mental health outcomes. For example, as I think that we have already heard, fewer than half of Tayside children who are waiting for mental health treatment are seen within 18 weeks. The target is for 90 per cent to be seen within that timeframe, whereas, at about 42 per cent, NHS Tayside’s performance was the second worst in Scotland.

The list of problems in NHS Tayside goes on. Staff are facing difficulties in accessing training; there is a lack of permanent psychiatrists, with patients seeing up to four different consultants during their time in hospital; waiting times for clinical psychologists exceed the 18-week target; and, as we have heard, one patient was even given a blank recovery care plan form to fill in themselves.

Treatment is of course crucial but, equally, we must be prepared to tackle the underlying reasons why so many people take their own lives. For example, those who live in the most deprived areas are more than three times as likely to die by suicide than those who live in the least deprived ones. That is a particular challenge in Dundee, which has levels of deprivation that are among the highest in Scotland. We must stop simply offering apologies and platitudes, and get to work to make sure that no more individuals and families suffer. Let us never forget that talk may be cheap but lives must be held dear.