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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:20 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 3:20 pm, 25th July 2019

That is an excellent point, and it plays into a general prejudice that people who are in detention are just an inconvenience to be managed. In the context of Sir Simon’s review, the whole ethos that any reform we make should be about empowering patients brings with it obligations to challenge other aspects of the system, not just the care providers. The hon. Lady is right to say that I need to take that up with the Policing Minister, which I will do as part of rolling out our preparations for the White Paper. I understand the hon. Lady’s lack of confidence when I say that the White Paper can be expected before the end of the year, but that is certainly my ambition, notwithstanding the fact that I know she has been waiting rather a long time for another paper that she was promised.

I can reassure the hon. Lady on the extent of the work that Sir Simon has done and the engagement we have had, especially with service users. Rather like the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, those service users shared with us their personal experiences, often reliving significant distress. Given that they have participated and that we have raised their expectations, we would, to be frank, be letting them down if we did not address that. I do not think that would be in any way forgivable, so, as long as it is on my watch, we will be pushing ahead.

As the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said, we are dealing with legislation passed in 1983, so although this appears to be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform this legislation, I hope that that is not the case. The situation is probably more symptomatic of the fact that we have not given this matter as much attention as it deserves, but clearly that has changed. The world has changed in terms of how we debate mental health, and that is welcome. Chiming in with the discussion we have had today, I am keen that we take this matter forward with consensus.

I pay tribute to the leadership that Sir Simon has shown in this review. As well as not ducking the controversial aspects of examining the legislation, he has engaged in dialogue and dealt with them in such a way that it is accepted that Members, peers, service users and professionals need to consider them. I am incredibly grateful for what he has done.

We talk more about mental ill health now, but when it comes to severe mental illness—the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark spoke about schizophrenia —that is something that reveals incredible prejudice in people. As we have heard, if someone is able to manage their condition, they can live a full and independent life, but the key is being able to manage the condition with the appropriate support. We still have a lot to do in educating the public and society about the real impact of severe mental illness.

There are so many issues, but I will try to address them all in the time I have. Kerry McCarthy asked about out-of-area placements for people with autism and learning disabilities. I must say that this is something that really bothers me. Far too many people remain in institutional care and in out-of-area placements, and nowhere is that more true than in the field of learning disabilities and autism.

It is interesting, once we dig under the issue, to see that we have been very successful in getting people with learning disabilities out of in-patient care and into the community. However, that has been matched by a bigger increase in the number of people with autism finding their way into in-patient care. That tells me—I do not think this will be a surprise to anyone in the Chamber—that we are not doing enough to diagnose autism early enough, and as a consequence we are not equipping people with the skills to be able to live independently.

The ultimate result is that we end up putting people in in-patient care. Quite often, those people are forgotten about and it becomes very expensive to keep them there, so not only are we failing people by not having services for them early enough, but we are adding significant cost to the taxpayer and, frankly, doing harm, because the longer those people stay in in-patient care, the more their ability to live independently diminishes. As far as I am concerned, that is a major failing that we need to address.