Mental Health Services: Leeds

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:00 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence) 6:00 pm, 23rd April 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered mental health services in Leeds.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie.

I requested this debate with some reluctance, because I did not want to believe that mental health services in my city—a city that I have lived in for 40 years and which I have been privileged to represent for the past 22 years—were so appalling, especially when compared with other cities and regions in this country. Sadly, however, when I met my constituent Charley Downey two months ago at a routine advice surgery, the evidence that she presented to me on behalf of her husband was so damning and shocking that I felt that there was no other option than to bring their concerns to the attention of this House and hopefully to the attention of the Government, so that appropriate action could be taken to put right a gross injustice being done to so many of my constituents, as well as those of my seven fellow Leeds MPs from across the House, and those of MPs in the broader area, such as York MPs.

The Government have acknowledged on many occasions over the past few years that mental health services across the country are under-resourced and they have promised remedial action, but one of the biggest problems is the uneven distribution of funding, as I have mentioned. The waiting list for treatment in Leeds is approximately 48 to 52 weeks, once a patient is actually put on the waiting list. However, that requires a prior diagnosis by a qualified nurse, or a “formulation”—because nurses are not permitted to make diagnoses. If a patient is suicidal, then even a few hours on a waiting list may be too much, or in the worst cases possibly fatal, but to wait for a year is simply appalling. Compare that waiting-list time with, say, that of East Lancashire, which is 12 weeks, or that of the London Borough of Hillingdon, which is six weeks, or that of Cheshire, which is nine weeks, and I am sure that the Minister will understand my concern and the deep anxiety of my constituents.

Andy Downey first attended his GP’s surgery on 8 November 2016 with serious concerns about his depression. He was given a leaflet about a service called “Improving Access to Psychological Therapies”, or IAPT, and he had a blood test, which subsequently showed that he had a folate deficiency, for which vitamin D supplements were supplied.

Ten months later, in October 2017, with his symptoms worsening and the supplements failing to help, Mr Downey attended his GP’s surgery again. A week later, after suffering a full panic attack and breathing difficulties, he was referred back to his GP, who suggested that Mr Downey refer himself to the IAPT through a website called Mindwell. The problem was that Mindwell has no mental health content or referral option to the IAPT, apart from a phone number. Andy rang that number, which went straight through to voicemail. His GP had told him that Mindwell was the only way to get a referral to the IAPT, but when Mrs Downey phoned the mental health trust—the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust—she was told that the GP had given her husband the wrong advice, and the trust accepted Mrs Downey’s request for treatment as a referral. Therefore, Andy’s initial assessment meeting finally took place on 5 February 2018. Charley Downey has provided me with almost four pages of information about dates, times, meetings, appointments and lack of outcomes, all of which I can make available to the Minister, if she so wishes, or to the trust, which should already have this information.

When I first met Charley on 16 February, I was appalled not only at the way in which her husband had been treated but by the state of mental health services in Leeds, which this case seemed to typify. On 19 February, I wrote to Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, to express my concerns about the case of Andy Downey and to raise the issues of underfunding for mental health provision in general across the region.

I asked Dr Munro what her perspective was on the difficulty of accessing mental health care through the NHS at present and why the trust had decided to use online tools rather than face-to-face therapy, when it seemed to me—purely a layman—that mental illness is one area in which human interaction and sensitive expert clinical judgement might be essential.