Firstly, I want to say that I greatly admire the work which Mind does in providing invaluable support to people across the country with mental health problems. For too long, mental health has been a “Cinderella service” in our NHS, not receiving the attention and investment which is needed. I would argue that this has made the work of charities like Mind all the more vital.
I still find it shocking that when the previous Government introduced targets for patient choice and waiting times for the treatment of physical health, they neglected to do the same for mental health. This reinforced an institutional bias against mental health, as with such political pressure to meet those targets, physical health was where investment was prioritised.
I was delighted that last autumn Nick Clegg announced that, by 2020, patients needing talking therapies for conditions such as depression will be guaranteed treatment in as little as six weeks, with 95% starting treatment after a maximum wait of 18 weeks. This is in line with targets for the treatment of physical health problems. For young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis, treatment will be offered within two weeks of referral, equivalent to the target for cancer referrals.
I am delighted that my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Government have worked so hard to put mental health firmly on the political agenda. I know that Liberal Democrat Health Minister, Norman Lamb, feels personally very strongly about this issue and he and Nick Clegg have tirelessly championed parity of esteem for mental and physical health services.
Norman announced the Crisis Care Concordat in February 2014, noting that crisis care is one of the starkest examples of the lack of equality between mental and physical health. I am really pleased to see the difference this has made already. This January the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network and the Association of Chief Police Officers published a briefing which noted that schemes in which mental health nurses work with the police on patrol and in call centres have seen a reduction in numbers of people with mental health problems who are detained under the Mental Health Act. Reportedly the reduction has been as high as 50 per cent in some areas.
In Government we have also invested £30 million to improve crisis care in A&E departments. While this is very welcome, I realise there is still work to do. By 2020, our ambition is for all hospital trusts to have an evidence based, high quality mental health crisis service for all ages in A&E departments and on hospital wards; with the biggest A&E departments providing this care around the clock, seven days a week. We also want to develop high quality crisis care within the community.
Needless to say, I am very happy to show my support for our local crisis care concordat in any way I can and I assure you that I, and my party, will continue to do everything we can to continue to improve services for people with mental health problems.