Debate on the Address: Health, Social Care and Security

Mike Wood: All Members will have their own examples of mental health casework. Often, those constituents will have attended an advice surgery or sent an email for help about a different problem entirely. It could be housing; it could be employment or welfare; it could even be a problem involving the criminal justice system. But it soon becomes clear, after a few questions and a little bit of probing, that the underlying problem is one of undiagnosed—or unsupported—mental illness.

Poor mental health weakens people’s life chances, and many of the effects of deprivation further aggravate the impact of mental illness. Sadly, an increasing proportion of cases from our surgeries involve children suffering from poor mental health. I welcome the Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health, and I am pleased that the Government have committed £1.4 billion for child and adolescent mental health services by 2020. That is absolutely the right thing to do. It will transform mental health treatment for children and young people. We all need to ensure that it is properly directed and spent in those areas where it was intended to be spent, because it is a shocking fact that one in 10 children in this country have a diagnosable mental health condition.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister launched the expansion of the mental health first aid training scheme in secondary schools yesterday. It is essential that we do more to deliver early intervention to support people’s mental health, rather than relying so heavily on acute mental health services once conditions have deteriorated, sometimes to the point of psychosis. It is the difference between treating an illness and just tackling the immediate symptoms—a distinction that would be so obvious for physical health that surely nobody would argue against its existence. That means ensuring that training for GPs allows them to identify mental health conditions in patients who present with a completely different illness, and ensuring that continuing professional development allows GPs to keep up so that more senior GPs also have the necessary understanding of mental health. It means securing access to successful programmes such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies—introduced by the previous Government and continued by this one—and other talking therapies, where alternatives to drug-based treatments are appropriate.

I am pleased that the Mental Health Act 1983 is to be reformed. It was doubtless introduced with the very best of intentions and has certainly had many beneficial effects, but in too many cases the starting point seems to be that it treats people with mental illness as threats that need to be contained, rather than as patients who need treatment and support. Of course, there are times when people need to be detained, for their own protection or that of those around them, but then the focus must be on medical treatment rather than, effectively, imprisonment.


Chris Green (Conservative, Bolton West)

In terms of providing that support in the right environment, would my Hon. Friend like to show some appreciation of the Government for the mental health hospital that recently opened just down the road from my constituency? It is a £40 million investment, and will go a long way to providing that kind of support in the local community.


Mike Wood: I absolutely agree. As part of the increased capital investment that the Prime Minister announced earlier this year, the £10 billion capital investment for the national health service will mean not only that new buildings such as the one to which my hon. Friend referred—the new hospital in Sandwell in the west midlands is an example—become more common, but infrastructure such as the new urgent care centre at my own local hospital in Russells Hall is provided so that our NHS can become more effective.

The Secretary of State should take great pride in the changes that he has introduced to guidance on section 135 and l36 powers, which mean that a safe place should usually be a place where patients can receive medical help, rather than the default position of a police cell. It is time for those changes to be given a statutory footing, and I hope that the new Bill will deliver that. There should be parity of esteem so that people with mental health conditions receive the same respect and equivalent status, and are treated with the same dignity, as people with physical health conditions. It is a positive step that that has been legislated for, and I hope that we will see more and more efforts to make sure that that commitment becomes a reality for constituents who receive treatment for mental health conditions.

If I may briefly speak of my own experience of the health service. As some hon. Friends know, I received rather more direct and personal experience of our hospitals, GPs and outpatient clinics than I had planned at the beginning of the year. I should like to place on record my thanks to the doctors, consultants, nurses and support staff who were all absolutely fantastic in keeping me alive so that I am here now. It has also given me the chance to work with the UK Sepsis Trust and the formidable Ron Daniels. I hope that during this Parliament the Secretary of State will have a chance to look at calls from the trust for simple measures that it is estimated would save perhaps a quarter of the 44,000 lives that are lost as a result of sepsis every year in the UK. They include instigating a national registry to record accurately the true burden of sepsis, raising awareness nationally, and looking at commissioning levers to deliver best practice and reinforce that.