Mental Health Act 1983 — [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:58 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee 1:58 pm, 25th July 2019

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, as long as we recognise that what is needed is a range of facilities. Even the most ardent advocate of doing away with in-patient beds would, if pressed, admit that there will always be some people who at some point absolutely need to have some in-patient treatment.

If there are some people who need to go in for a considerable period of time, and hopefully there are a lot more people who do not need to be admitted to acute units at all, it follows almost logically that there will be some people who are on the borderline between the two, who can get by in society with a degree of self-awareness—either their own or that of their immediate family—and that when the warning signs appear, provided there is that network of specialist care with beds for very short-term stays, they can receive what I call a “top-up”, or, if we were talking about servicing a vehicle, something that will prevent a much greater collapse from happening later, with all the consequent horrors.

The question of what happens when people are admitted to acute units arose on a second occasion. I mentioned the first occasion, when I tried to introduce my private Member’s Bill in December 1997 and it was overshadowed by foxhunting. On a second occasion—on 9 December 2010, to be precise—I had secured an Adjournment debate on what happens about the information that is given to someone’s nearest and dearest when an adult is sectioned and goes into an acute unit. That occasion was on the day of the key debate about the trebling of student tuition fees, so once again we found mental health being somewhat upstaged by other matters that were of national importance. However, that is no reason not to persist or not to continue to try and emphasise to Ministers how these issues will never go away until they are finally tackled.

On that occasion in December 2010, I raised the case of the daughter of my constituents, Mr and Mrs Edgell. Sadly, their daughter—who was called Larissa but known as Lara—had taken her own life in 2006. For two years prior to that, the medical authorities had refused to share information about her with her parents; because she was an adult in her thirties, they refused to share vital information about her suicidal thoughts with her parents, on the grounds of patient confidentiality.

It subsequently turned out that there were very good guidelines that said that such information should be shared. So, I wrote to the then Minister with responsibility for care services, Mr Lewis, saying that there was clearly a breakdown in the system if adequate rules existed but were not being put into practice locally. The rather unsatisfactory answer that I received at the time was that the responsibility lay with the local medical authorities to ensure that the central guidelines were implemented.

As I say, that was at the end of 2010, so it was a long time ago. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to reassure me that there is now more central direction. In the case of Lara and her parents there was inadequate sharing of vital information, under the mistaken belief that patient confidentiality trumped the fact that an adult patient was incapable of making her own decisions. I would like to know whether that situation has been rectified, or whether we are still dependent on local medical institutions and authorities to apply a central guideline that ought to be better known.

This week, I received a letter from Lara’s mother, who asked me to attend this debate. I can do no better than to read from what she says, not so much about what happened to her daughter but about the continued interest that she has in the workings of the mental health services. She says that she would like to make her own recommendations; given what happened so tragically in her immediate family, we owe it to her to give serious consideration to those recommendations, which are as follows:

“1. The 1983 Act should be revised to prioritise the dignity of individuals who come to be in the Service’s orbit.

2. Such individuals should have their values and world views respected and have a significant say in the manner of their treatment.

3. They should have the option to refuse certain treatments.

4. Mental hospitals must be places where patients feel safe: there have been numerous allegations of staff members being abusive, provocative and/or intimidating.

5. Use of force should be absolutely minimised. This includes physical restraint, seclusion, or forced medication.

6. A reduction in ‘sectioning’.

7. A reduction in stigma”— and finally:

“8. All aspects of the Mental Health Service should be more open, and subject to independent scrutiny from time to time.”

I will conclude by making one left-field observation relating to the armed forces. The Select Committee on Defence, which I have the honour of chairing, has been recommending for some time that we establish a centre of excellence for the mental injuries suffered by those who put their life on the line to defend this country, preferably alongside the national centre for physical rehabilitation at Stanford Hall. We have now raised this issue twice with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has given us a reasonably encouraging response. However, once again, we feel that he is coming up against resistance because of the philosophy that people must be treated locally when at all possible, not admitted as in-patients in centralised locations. That is causing a pushback against our idea.

Our idea is based on the fact that those who suffer injury in combat situations have experienced a peculiar and unique form of trauma, different from those that ordinary mental health professionals can be expected to understand. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend Johnny Mercer will want to expand on that topic, if he is lucky enough to catch the Chair’s eye. We believe that there is a case for a national centre of excellence, and that the welfare of members of our armed services who suffer mental injury should be no less important to us than the welfare of those who suffer other, physical forms of injury in the cause of defending our freedom.