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 thank the hon. Gentleman for that important point. I know that staff—competent and qualified staff—are needed to fulfil the expectations and the demands, but I do not know why that is. Is it under-funding or under-resourcing, or simply that there are not enough trained personnel available to fill the posts? Or is it that the level of training, competence and experience is not sufficient for the demands of the posts? That is something we will have to explore and I hope the Minister will also make it one of her priorities.

The quote I read out is a truly damning condemnation of the trust, not in my words, but in the words of someone crying out for help and cruelly being denied it, through, I believe, a mixture of incompetence, complacency, under-funding and—I am reluctant to say this—a bit of callousness too. Lives are being put at risk by the crisis and the question I would ask above every other is: why is Leeds so inadequate and so poorly funded compared with many other parts of England?

Let me come back to my constituent, Andy Downey. Andy was placed on the waiting list for mental health treatment in April 2018, with an estimated date for his first appointment in November or December of that year. That was subsequently extended to March 2019. However, in the meantime he experienced an unrelated physical health issue, in November 2018, and was sent to a private hospital—Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay —to see a surgeon, as they were contracting NHS services. That appointment was in December last year. He was told that he needed exploratory surgery to resolve the issue, which would be scheduled “after Christmas”. When no update had been received by January 2019, Charley chased the matter, only to be told that the hospital had tried to call but “hadn’t got through”. However, no calls or messages had been received by the Downeys. The surgery was subsequently scheduled for May 2019—next month. Because Andy will apparently not be able to attend mental health treatment while waiting for surgery—I am not sure why—his mental health treatment has been cancelled and he has been placed back on the bottom of the waiting list to start the whole process again. The current waiting list is 10 months.

Let me summarise Andy Downey’s case, for the Minister’s benefit—I am sorry, I am eating into her time: it took longer than a year, and multiple GP appointments, just to get a mental health referral, and then only after an ambulance attended. Referral for assessment took four months. From assessment to recommending prescription for antidepressants to receiving a prescription took an additional two months. The waiting list from decision on treatment to first treatment session took 49 weeks. It took 18 months from first contact to get an antidepressant prescription. It took 29 months from first contact to initial treatment appointment. It then took another 10 to 11 months to restart treatment because of the failure of a private company to schedule unrelated surgery. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is totally unacceptable. Mental health services are often as urgent and necessary as physical health treatment, yet they are treated almost as a Cinderella service. The fragmentation and under-resourcing of mental health services, especially in Leeds, means that lives are often at risk.

We have had several debates in the House over the past few years about depression and the effect that it can have on the individual and everyone who cares about that person, with a few brave MPs telling the House and the public what they have suffered, but unless we make our mental health a priority, we will have more and more cases like that of Andy Downey and his wife Charley —who is present here today, and has had to carry the burden of incompetent and inadequate public services on her shoulders. Although we live in one of the richest societies in the world, we cannot, it seems, organise and fund the very services that will help to bring so many people afflicted with mental illness and depression back into mainstream society. It is a condemnation of us all that couples such as the Downeys have had to bring their shocking experience into the public domain through their Member of Parliament. I salute their courage, but feel angry on their behalf.

Finally, will the Minister answer these questions or, if she is unable to do so, will she write to me after the debate? First, what mechanism do the Government have to ensure that mental health services are delivered equally across the country? Secondly, does the Minister really believe that the private sector has a beneficial role in delivering mental health services? Thirdly, will she intervene by raising with the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust the issues that I have drawn to her attention in this debate? I hope, for the benefit of the Downeys and on behalf of the many thousands like them across our city, that mental health services can be given the priority and the resources they need in order to ensure a healthier and better society for us all.